Praise for ‘true’ priest
A Cavan priest, who hosted Sunday Mass despite a ban on public gatherings during the height of the pandemic, has been described as “a very honourable man and a true priest, who has honoured his vocation”.
The comments were made by James Ryan who, alongside his wife Ann, was convicted for attending Mullahoran priest P.J. Hughes’ service on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021.
Each were fined €300 by Judge Raymond Finnegan at Cavan District Court last Thursday but are set to appeal their convictions.
“We have appealed it,” Mr Ryan told The Anglo-Celt.
Numerous garda checkpoints were mounted on the approach roads to Our Lady of Lourdes Church Mullahoran on the morning in question. Gardaí were on high alert in Holy Week amid concerns anti-lockdown protestors would demonstrate at the church in support of the local parish priest who continued to say Mass with parishioners present.
Fr Hughes leapt to national prominence following an article in this newspaper in which the local priest articulated what he said was his right to continue celebrating Masses. This was despite repeated warnings from gardaí and the advice of his then Bishop. The cleric spoke to this newspaper shortly after he was slapped with a €500 fine for allowing parishioners attend Mass in breach of public health regulations. Around 40 people had attended on March 7, after which Fr Hughes received the fine notice by post on March 18, the day after St Patrick’s Day. The outspoken Fr Hughes expressed frustration at the prohibition on public Masses during level five restrictions, and was particularly aggrieved by the continued restrictions during Holy Week and Easter approaching.
“I think it’s crazy because we have a situation where the Government and NPHET are now playing God. I mean, they’ve abandoned God!” said Fr Hughes, a native of Athlone who previously served as a missionary priest in Ecuador, before arriving in Mullahoran in August 2019.
“Fr P.J. Hughes, a very honourable man and a true priest, who has honoured his vocation,” said Mr Ryan when asked his opinion outside Cavan Courthouse. “The judge said in there that that wasn’t our local church. It was our local church because it was the nearest church to us that was open. All the rest of them were closed and in defiance of the constitution,” he added.
Palm Sunday 2021 was the second Easter the Ryans claim they had been “stopped” from attending Mass due to churches being closed by Covid restrictions.
“It was Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus went into Jerusalem, knowing his fate, knowing the torture he was facing, the death he was going to face on the cross. He could have got on that colt and turned and gone the other way. Are we not right then to go to Mass for that day?” Mr Ryan asked.
“Under Article 44 of the Constitution we are entitled to practise our religion in public, and under Article 15 of the Constitution the Oireachtas have no right to enact any law that is repugnant to the Constitution,” contends Mr Ryan holding a copy of the Constitution in his hand and repeating what he told the judge from the witness box earlier in the day. “If they do, the law is invalid. This is the case we brought up.”
Mr Ryan had refused to take the oath also, citing instead a verse from St Matthew’s gospel. “They’re giving us the Bible to swear [on] but they don’t even know what it contains,” scathed Mr Ryan.
“We’re just ordinary people really,” remarked Mrs Ryan.
When put to Mr Ryan that his remarks to the judge after sentencing that “Jesus would be ashamed of you” could be considered unchristian-like, Mrs Ryan interjected, and countered: “What we believe as Christians is that on the last day of judgement God will say ‘Who are you? Get away from me, I don’t know thee!’, because if we don’t profess our faith, we are told as Christians we should be prepared to die for Jesus Christ, give our blood as he gave his blood on the cross for us. Now, if we can’t do that, we might as well just lay down and die now.”