Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop John McDowell has hit out at society for its treatment of older people which "is not far short of a disgrace".
Speaking at his first General Synod online yesterday he referred to the plight of residents in care homes.
He said: "It will be interesting to learn just how much effort was put into finding ways for close relatives to visit very confused, frightened and in many cases dying residents, people nearing the end of their lives and some of them barely able to understand why they were being abandoned (or so it may have appeared to them) by their loved ones."
"Safety is important but it's not everything. We rightly accept slightly increased risks to keep schools open, but perhaps on balance there is a case for the benefit of allowing the physical presence of someone whom the person loves and who could provide a unique sense of reassurance to them, as against any threat to safety. We can only hope that someone actually asked the question."
He also praised the essential workers during the pandemic, including nursing assistants, care home staff, lorry drivers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers, as well as migrant labourers in food factories, and people who have kept schools open "and continued to teach and learn".
The Primate also hit out at forces on and between both parts of Ireland and Britain which, he claimed, have the potential to be "more than a little disruptive "of many decades of stable relationships.
"One thing we can be sure of is the task of rebuilding trust, the wisdom of knowing when to speak out and when to keep counsel, and the resilience of determined peace-makers who will be needed more than ever."
He also spoke of the need for more basic reconciliation in Northern Ireland .
"The question that we as individuals and a Church need to ask ourselves is - do we really want to say to our children and grandchildren, 'I'm sorry, but this is the best I could do for you; a society north of the border which is still divided in virtually every department of life and with much sectarian feeling still at its core'."
The Primate also said that there was a need for healing and reconciliation within the Church of Ireland. "There is an ignorance of how we live, North and South, a deeply unattractive sense of superiority from some, and a repellent self-righteousness under the disguise of piety in others. Both attitudes are cold and barren because there is no love in them."
However, he said he was proud of the Church of Ireland for the way it adapted its ministry in the face of uncertainty and of "the way we have gone to great lengths to make our places of worship as safe as following all the we advice we were given could make them".
"I am also proud of our patience and civic awareness when we have been prevented from worshipping in church."
Yesterday's General Synod was to have taken place in Croke Park last May but was postponed due to the pandemic.