Local priest fined by Gardai for breaching Covid regulations in church
A South Westmeath priest has been issued with a €500 fine by gardaí for breaching Covid regulations.
Fr P.J. Hughes from Mount Temple, is now based in the Cavan parish of Mullahoran. He was issued with the fine for allowing parishioners to attend mass, he confirmed in this weekend's parish bulletin for Mullahoran and Loughduff.
The Garda Press Office has refused to confirm or deny that a fine has issued to Fr Hughes saying: 'It is not the policy of An Garda Síochána to comment on named individuals.'
Fr Hughes was warned by authorities last November, in the last level Five restrictions, that he was on his "final warning".
He said on that occasion he felt the restrictions were akin to “living in a police state” or harking back to Penal Law times.
“I have continued to say Mass because I feel it is our Constitutional right to practise our religion,” said Fr Hughes.
He admitted that, when people arrived to the rural church when he was saying Mass, he did not chase them away.
The Irish Catholic Newspaper is reporting that sources close to Fr Hughes say he is determined not pay the fine and is prepared to go to jail if necessary.
The priest is adamant he will continue continue leave the church doors open while celebrating Mass, although he does not advertise the times of the masses.
In the parish bulletin this weekend, Fr Hughes writes: 'For those who are afraid of catching the virus in the church then they can have the free choice to stay at home and live their lives as they think it best to do.
'I have been reported again and the gardaí have issued a fine because I celebrated Mass with people present. I will exercise my constitutional right even though people are complaining, even though I am not obeying the bishop when I go against his advice,' he writes.
Fr Hughes continues: 'We can’t just reject Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.'
The priest relocated from the Leamonaghan parish in Offaly, to become parish priest in Mullahoran in August 2019.
Located within the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Fr Hughes acknowledges his Masses came to the attention of authorities, including Bishop Francis Duffy, a native of Bawnboy, after “somebody reported me”.
Fr Hughes maintains that the current Covid regulations contradict his interpretation of Article 44 of the Constitution, which deals with rights to practice religion freely.
He said in November: "That’s our faith, and I’m not going to close the door in these people’s faces.”