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Irish Catholic priests are being afflicted by performance anxiety during online masses because of bad reviews from “mass-hopping” worshippers.
Parishioners are pressuring priests in Ireland to install webcams and to spice up their services to attract more viewers, according to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).
Covid-19 restrictions have obliged churches to move services online, prompting some worshippers to rate priests as if they were television presenters, according to Fr Brendan Hoban, a co-founder of the group.
“They’re hopping from mass to mass, just sampling them,” he said. “Priests are under huge pressure to perform. They are being marked out on their particular performances.”
Parishioners were comparing viewing figures as if it were a competition, said Fr Hoban. “It’s an indication if their church is as good as the church down the road. ‘We have 47 hits, another has 2,000 hits – what’s wrong with you, father? Why do we have only 47 hits?’
“They would say the priest next door has A, B, C and D in terms of presentation skills.” The parishioner comments were made in person or over the phone, he said.
Fr Tim Hazelwood, a spokesman for the ACP, drew attention to the issue in a Zoom address to the group’s annual general meeting on 28 October. Some priests had stopped doing online services because of “very hurtful” remarks, he said, in comments reported by the Irish Independent.
Although online performance anxiety might sound like a Father Ted plotline updated for the Covid-19 era, Hoban said it was a serious problem for elderly, vulnerable men doing their best to cope with multiple pressures. The average age of priests in Ireland was 72, and most lived alone and many had health problems, he said.
Many do not feel comfortable saying mass in an empty church under the lens of a webcam. “They don’t know where the congregation is, out there in the ether. It could be two people or a thousand. They’re not trained with doing mass in this way.”
Hoban said priests felt additional pressure from some parishioners and conservative commentators who wanted them to lobby the government to lift restrictions on churches. He said priests with underlying health conditions were nervous about large numbers attending services.
Source: The Guardian
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