A priest who was fined €500 for saying Mass has vowed to continue to defy the authorities and would rather go to prison than pay the fine.© Provided by Extra.ie
Cavan-based Fr PJ Hughes said Mass in front of more than 40 people on Sunday, in defiance of Level-5 Covid-19 restrictions.
Dismissing the punishment he received, the rebel cleric insisted that he is only afraid of God, not the Government.© Provided by Extra.ie Fr P J Hughes is willing to go to jail for Mass. Pic Â© Michael Chester
And it seems several members of his flock have given his actions their blessing too. Supporters inundated him with support and congratulations on Facebook after gardaí handed Fr Hughes an on-the-spot fine of €500 for saying Mass two weeks ago.
The admonition delivered to the priest came as it emerged that daily Covid cases had surged significantly on Sunday evening. There were 769 cases reported last night, along with two deaths of people infected with the virus. This represents the highest daily increase in cases reported since February 26.
HSE chief Paul Reid also said yesterday that he is concerned about the increase in Covid-19 hospitalisations over the weekend. But Fr Hughes believes more trust needs to be put in God to deal with the pandemic.© Provided by Extra.ie HSE CEO Paul Reid is concerned over the latest daily COVID numbers in Ireland. Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
‘We need to face up to the reality that God can help us, but there is no mention of that from the Government,’ he told the Irish Daily Mail. ‘We never hear them saying “God help us” or “with God’s help we will be over this”. They never make reference to God, so it’s just hard for me to pay serious attention to what they are saying.’
The defiant priest added that the Garda actions didn’t bother him. ‘I’m not afraid of people, I’m afraid of God,’ he said. Under the current Level 5 restrictions, churches are allowed to remain open for private prayer, but religious services must be held online. The exception is for funerals where up to ten people can attend.
In November, the gardaí cautioned Fr Hughes, of Mullahoran parish in Co. Cavan, that he should not be saying Mass but he ignored their warnings. Asked on Sunday if he was concerned about future fines or potentially jail time for continuing to put on Masses with people in attendance, he said: ‘No, not really. As I said, I’m not afraid of people. I’m afraid of God. So, I’m not offending God anyway.’© Provided by Extra.ie Currently Mass is only allowed online. Pic: Shutterstock
And in a direct message to the authorities that he won’t be deterred from continuing with his Masses, he told the Mail: ‘I am continuing with Masses… I am not going to pay the fine because I don’t think it is against the law.
‘It is our constitutional right to celebrate our faith, I’m not going to pay the fine.’ The priest first received a visit from the gardaí last November after he said Mass. He said gardaí fined him for a Mass two weeks ago when there were also more than 40 people in attendance. Fr Hughes said he leaves the church doors open, and people are free to come in.
‘If people wanted to come in, they are free to come in. I’m not going to close the door on anybody,’ he said. He added that other parishioners would like to be present but ‘they’re afraid to come because of the guards and the threat of the Government’. Fr Hughes said that he conducted a Mass yesterday with strong support from parishioners.© Provided by Extra.ie Churches can remain open, but only for private prayer and funerals with limited numbers. Pic: Shutterstock
‘It was a month’s memory Mass for a man and the family was there. There were more than 40 [in attendance],’ he said. Fr Hughes said the Government and the ‘hierarchy of the Church’ have decided the church is not a safe place to be, which he doesn’t accept. ‘It is all about Covid. I don’t know how many people died of cancer, I don’t know how many people died of a heart attack but Covid seems to be running the country now through NPHET and the HSE,’ he said.
‘They don’t believe that God created the world. ‘They don’t believe that God can help us, so that is where it is confusing for me.’ In yesterday’s Mullahoran and Loughduff Parish newsletter, posted on the Mullahoran Parish Churches Facebook page, Fr Hughes acknowledged the fine was issued but said that ‘life has become burdened by restrictions, health officials telling us to wear masks and not to go to the church in case we catch the virus’. In advance of Holy Week, Fr Hughes said: ‘I will exercise my constitutional right even though people are complaining, even though I am not obeying my bishop when I go against his advice. We can’t just reject Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.’© Provided by Extra.ie Fr P J Hughes says he is not afraid of anyone but God. Pic Â© Michael Chester
The post on Facebook was met with support. One woman, Sheila McGirr McGarry, said: ‘Well done Fr PJ Hughes, your [sic] answerable to Christ Our Lord. We will pray for courage and strength for you in these days.’ Adrian Brickland said: ‘You’re a great priest, well done. Priests like you are why I am still a Catholic. Your bravery and courage is awesome.’ Another supporter, Michael Barry, tweeted: ‘Whoever thought that we would see this day in Ireland? It is simply incredible. The Government and gardaí should hang their heads in deep shame. About 20 people in a 500- seater church.’
In a statement to the Mail, the Gardaí said it does not comment on ‘named persons or on individual instances of fines issued’. However, the gardaí did say that a person who has been issued a fine for breaching Covid-19 regulations has 28 days to pay it and if they don’t pay in time they face a District Court summons with the potential for a fine of €1,000 and/or imprisonment to be handed down.