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Return to Public Worship

Return to Public Worship

From Monday, May 10th, our churches will again be open for public worship. This is very much welcomed and we look forward to being together in faith. The following clarifications have been issued from the Department of An Taoiseach around numbers etc.

Pods of 50

Where the size of the premises/place of worship allows for a capacity of greater than 50 this may be permitted only where: 

–          social distancing guidelines are adhered to

–          the premises can be subdivided into distinct sections (cordoned or marked appropriately) of not more than 50 persons in each section

–          there is a minimum of four metres between sections

–          each section having its own entrance/exit route

–          there are separate arrangements for elements of the service involving close contact, for example the distribution of Holy Communion

–          strictly no movement of people between sections before, during or after the service

–          the premises is well-ventilated


There is an increased risk of transmission of the virus where families and communities come together following the death of a loved one.  Therefore, numbers at funeral services (and weddings) is capped at 50 regardless of size of premises. 

Notwithstanding the increase in numbers permitted, funerals are still considered private family events and all notices in newspapers or online should be clear about this. 

Funeral services should continue to be live-streamed to help reduce numbers attending. 

Attendance at wakes in private homes and at funeral homes remains unchanged ie immediate family only and people should be discouraged from queuing to pay respects.    

Outdoor worship is not permitted in line with Government restrictions on organised outdoor gatherings.  

Use of religious premises for any other purposes/parochial activities/community meetings etc. is not permitted in line with Government restrictions on organised indoor gatherings. 

“Amoris Laetitia Family”

“Amoris Laetitia Family”

Bishop Paul shares reflection on Amoris Latetita Family

On the 19th of March 2021, the Feast of St. Joseph, the Church celebrated five years since the publication of the papal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love).  Pope Francis has invited the Church to reflect upon this document five years on and to celebrate family over the coming year.  This comes shortly after the announcement by the Irish Bishops of a synodal process leading to a National Synod within five years.  Further to this, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its formal response to the question regarding the blessing of the unions of same sex couples.  I have been reflecting upon this moment in the life of the Church and the challenge it poses for all who care for the Church’s position but are also aware of the complex nature of life and love.

In October 2015, the Synod on Marriage and the Family took place in Rome.  Out of this came Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love).  In it he outlines the vocation of the family according to the Gospel which has been affirmed by the Church over time.  The Pope’s teaching stresses the themes of indissolubility, the sacramental nature of marriage, the transmission of life and the education of children.  However, the Pope also acknowledges that not all situations meet the ideal proposed by the Church and the need to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations.

Following the publication of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s response to the question of blessing unions of people in same sex relationships, many have expressed their anger, disappointment and disillusionment with the Church.  This has been experienced as another hurtful response from the Church to people with same sex orientation.  In an article published on the 16th of March 2021, Bishop Johann Bonny of Antwerp, who attended the Synod on Marriage and the Family in 2015, stated that during the synod “there were frequent discussions about appropriate rituals and gestures to include homosexual couples, including in the liturgical sphere.  Naturally, this occurred with respect for the theologically and pastoral distinction between a sacramental marriage and the blessing of a relationship.  The majority of the synod fathers did not choose a black and white liturgical approach or an all-or-nothing model.”

To understand the bigger picture of how the Church arrives at its teaching we must turn to Scripture and Tradition.  The Church studies and interprets the Scriptures and Tradition and from this teaches what it believes is the truth given to us by God.  If we apply this to the Church’s understanding of marriage, which is fundamental, it believes in and teaches the unitive and procreative ends of marriage.  In my assessment of the current situation, it seems people can understand the position that the Church has a duty and responsibility to proclaim its message, whether one believes it or not is another matter. Some agree with what the Church proclaims as truth, others do not.  The deeper problem arises in the sphere of language, at best it is experienced as cold and distant, at worst hurtful and offensive.  The statement that the Church “cannot bless sin” is seen as targeting or treating same sex couples in a way that others are not targeted or treated in the Church.  Many have found this deeply offensive.  As a result some feel they are not welcome and have no place in the Catholic Church.  There is a great sadness in this as no one should feel that they are not welcome in the Church, which is the Body of Christ.  Further to this, so many people in same sex relationships have enriched the life of the Church and continue to do so in parishes across the world.

In one of his first interviews after becoming Pontiff, Pope Francis was asked how he would describe himself.  His response was “I am a sinner.”  We all find ourselves in this category.  In my own life as a Christian I strive to live the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but knowing my sinful nature, I all too often fail at reaching that ideal.  However, I do need the truth of the Gospel to aim for, knowing that when I do fail, God’s mercy awaits me.  God’s mercy is more powerful than my sinfulness.  Pope Francis has reminded us that another name for God is mercy!  This is the approach I have tried to use in my pastoral ministry as a priest over the past twenty-three years and now as bishop.  It is something I am very conscious of when I celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a confessor, but also as a penitent seeking forgiveness.           

So where do we go from here, what can we learn?  Firstly, the Church needs to hear what is being said in relation to language.  The Church must reflect upon how its language is heard and interpreted by people in today’s complex world.     

Secondly, even though many are disillusioned by the statement from the Congregation, there are important points that may have been overshadowed in the commentary.  For instance, the document talks about “positive elements” in same sex relationships which are “to be valued and appreciated.”  This may seem insignificant, but to my knowledge, I do not recall the Church making such a statement before.      

Thirdly, the Irish Church has recently embarked upon a “synodal journey.”  Synod means “walking together,” it is at the heart of Pope Francis’ model and understanding of Church and ministry.  The Irish Bishops have emphasised that this synodal journey must reach out to everyone, including those who feel they are not part of the Church.  A synodal path is not about changing the doctrine of the Church, it is about how we apply it more pastorally.  The journey involves prayerfully listening to the Spirit and discerning what God wants of us as a Church in the modern world.  This will not be an easy journey, the chaotic “field hospital” image of Pope Francis comes to mind, an image that many can identify with today. 

Perhaps this struggle, this unease is at the very heart of the synodal way.  We would all like for it to be “neat and tidy” and to be in control.  This is not the way of synodality which requires humility to allow the Spirit to take charge.  Pope Francis reminds us of this call to humility when says: “Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators.”  (Evangelii Gaudium 47).  May we have the courage to “walk together” as a community of disciples with our minds and hearts open to where the Lord is calling us at this critical moment.

Canon Michael Joyce, R.I.P.

Canon Michael Joyce, R.I.P.

Canon Michael Joyce, R.I.P.

Bishop Paul, on his own behalf and in the name of the Diocese of Achonry, is saddened to announce today the death of Canon Michael Joyce, PE.

Michael lived in Swinford since his retirement as Parish Priest of Bohola. Ordained in 1965, Michael began teaching in St Nathy’s College in 1966 and then for a year in Colaiste Padraig, Swinford before returning to St Nathy’s College. He served as Parish Priest in the parishes of Curry, Swinford and Bohola and was a much loved, resepected and spiritual pastor and priest. He will be sadly missed by all with whom he had contact during his many years of faithful ministry in our diocese.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and many friends, who will truly miss him.

Please remember Canon Michael in your prayers.

Those who would have liked to attend the funeral, but due to current restrictions cannot, please leave your personal message BOOK OF CONDOLENCE

Pastoral Leadership Team

Pastoral Leadership Team

A Team unfolds…

On Tuesday, 2nd of February, the newly formed Pastoral Leadership Team met via “Zoom.” The group is made up of nine lay people, three priests and myself. For our first meeting I set the scene for the group as follows…

I was parish priest in Newbridge for five years, before that I served in other parishes in Co. Kildare and worked in the areas of youth, vocations, and local media. Then, one day, out of the blue, I was appointed Bishop of Achonry. For me it is a very different role, in a different diocese, in a different part of the country. It is a role that has many challenges and there is no blueprint with clear answers. I am very aware that I need help, advice, and guidance in my role as shepherd of the diocese. With this in mind, I went about forming a group of people so that we can work together to reflect upon the challenges that face us as a diocese today and see how we might meet those challenges.


Over the years I worked with people in parish life, I now felt I had a great opportunity to develop this in my ministry as bishop. Pope Benedict while talking to a group of pastoral leaders a number of years ago said that people were “co-responsible” for the life of the Church. This was a very significant statement. Over the years the responsibility for the leadership of the Church tended to be left to the priests and bishops. Pope Benedict was saying that all baptised Catholics are equally responsible for the life of the Church. Pope Francis emphasises “synodality” in the Church. This unusual word literally means a “journeying together” or “walking together,” discerning where the Spirit may be calling us.

From this I see the Pastoral Leadership Team as a group of people, priests, and bishop “walking together” trying to discern and reflect on where the Spirit is calling us in the diocese at this time and how we can respond to that call? The Team is made up of people from around the diocese. They were recommended by priests. They do not perceive themselves as being experts! However, each one has rich life and parish experience and are committed to their faith. I thank each one for the generosity in giving of their time and energy to this initiative.

The Journey from here…

We are fortunate to have Fr. Eugene Duffy as a resource in the diocese. Fr. Eugene is from Ballaghaderreen and lectures in theology in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. Over the next couple of months, Fr. Eugene will be sharing his expertise with the group on various topics that are essential to ministry. These include: How God speaks to us and how we respond, the mission of Jesus, the mission of the Church, roles and ministries in the life of the Church. After these sessions we will then begin to reflect in a deeper way on the next steps. It is important to emphasise that this is not in any way a “closed” group! We will be communicating with the people and priests of the diocese. Communication is a two-way process, so people can always get in touch with their reflections and ideas at any time.

As we take these initial steps, I ask you to pray for this initiative. We are setting out on a journey, not too sure where the destination is! We trust in the Lord as we “walk together” knowing that his love and light will guide us along the path he wishes us to follow.

With warm wishes and every blessing,

+Paul Dempsey,
Bishop of Achonry.

Knock Shrine On-Line

Knock Shrine On-Line

Knock Shrine to host special online faith discussions during Lent

Ash Wednesday falls on 17 February and heralds the beginning of Lent 2021.  This year Knock Shrine will host a new series of online discussions to help engage Christians during Lent, under the title ‘Living Christian Faith – Lenten Conversations’.

What nurtures our faith and what challenges it today?

Where do we find hope and joy in our lives?

How can our faith build mental strength, wellbeing and resilience?

How has the Covid pandemic impacted upon our faith? 

These are just some of the questions that will be explored over the 6 weeks of Lent during a new series of online discussions on the topic of ‘Living Christian Faith’. Faith Renewal at Knock Shrine is all about reaching out to people. This will open a conversation on contemporary issues of faith and church life.

Chaired by Father Eamonn Conway DD, Priest in Tuam diocese and Professor of Theology at Mary Immaculate College, the conversations will explore a different theme each week and guest speakers will discuss some of the important questions we all face in living out our faith.

The discussions will be streamed online via the Knock Shrine website offering people from all over the world the opportunity to engage in relevant topics and to hear from a range of people, from those in public life such as Baroness Nuala O’Loan and Senator Ronan Mullen to groups of young teachers and members of the clergy.

Thursday 18 February Living Christian Faith in the Family’                  
Saint John Paul spoke about how the future of humanity passes by way of the family. Patrick and Linda Treacy, who have four children and run a centre for domestic spirituality called Integritas from their home, will speak about the joys and challenges of living Christian Faith as a family today. 

Thursday 25 February ‘Living Christian Faith as Young Adults’              

A group of young Irish adults, for whom Christian Faith is of great importance, will discuss the strength it gives them and how we can better communicate the joy of the Gospel today. 

Thursday 4 March ‘Living Christian Faith in the Classroom as Young Teachers’

Three recently qualified primary teachers explain how their religious faith is important to them and how it influences their work as teachers in the classroom. 

Thursday 11 March ‘Living Christian Faith in Public Life’           

Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Senator Ronan Mullen and discuss their own faith, how it informs their public service and the challenges people of faith encounter in the public sphere today. 

Thursday 18 March Proclaiming Christian Faith as a priest or religious today’

Sr Ursula Lawler, lecturer in Christian Ethics at Mary Immaculate College, returned missionary and editor of the Africa Magazine, Father Sean Deegan SPS; Ballyhaunis Parish Priest Father Stephen Farragher and Father Eamonn Conway will discuss living priesthood and religious life today in conversation with young Irish Catholic journalist Jason Osbourne. 

Thursday 25 March ‘Studying Christian Faith’

Máire McDonald is Vice Principal of a busy secondary school in Dublin. Judith King is an internationally recognised psychotherapist and Margaret Naughton is a busy hospital chaplain. Yet they have all found time to fulfil their passion of doing a PhD in theological studies. They share with us how their theological studies enriches their faith and their work. 

The talks will be streamed at 8.30pm every Thursday during Lent.

Join us at

or on Facebook @knockshrine

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