Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell, Scotland, has written a letter to the faithful of his diocese, encouraging them to comply with stringent regulations the Scottish government has put in place to counter the spread of coronavirus. He says the severity of the situation warrants emergency measures. Bishop Toal’s letter acknowledges the view taken by the Catholic bishops of Scotland, who earlier this week said they were “perplexed” by the decision to close houses of worship in Scotland, and expressed their “dismay” at the same.
Bishop Toal nevertheless says that the faithful ought not gather for Mass or other services while required by law to remain at home.
“As we are well aware, the gravity of the threat posed by the more rapid spread of the virus in recent weeks led to the Scottish Government introducing a law telling us all to stay at home unless we have an essential reason for leaving our homes,” Bishop Toal wrote in the letter, posted to the diocesan Facebook page on Friday. He said his understanding of the need for such a law is “the severity of the situation we are in and the resulting need to limit moments of physical social contact with one another as much as possible.”
“Presented with this reality,” Bishop Toal continued, “my judgement as a Catholic Bishop is that we should not gather for Mass or other public services while we are required by law to stay at home for our own safety and that of other people.”
The Catholic Bishops of Scotland issued a statement earlier this week, in which they said they “appreciate the difficult choices facing the Scottish Government” and reiterated their proven readiness “both to cooperate with and to support its efforts in protecting the common good,” including steps to curtail public worship “in extreme circumstances and for a limited period.”
“However,” the Scottish bishops said, “we are also perplexed by the decision, given that the stringent measures taken since last March to ensure public safety in our churches have been effective.” The bishops also noted the lack of evidence “to justify the inclusion of places of worship as sources of infection,” and the decision of the government of England to leave houses of worship open as proof of “the essential contribution of public worship to the spiritual welfare of all citizens during this crisis.”
In his letter to the faithful of Motherwell, Bishop Toal recognised the view according to which the government “should not have imposed this regulation on religious bodies.”
“[T]he Scottish Catholic Bishops have expressed this view,” Bishop Toal wrote, “and it does feel that the Churches and others could have made this decision ourselves in a spirit of cooperation and understanding with the Government in the face of the difficulties we face.” Nevertheless, he said he believes the majority of Motherwell Catholics — laity and clergy alike — “we would accept the closure of our churches for our regular acts of worship as a necessary consequence of being required to stay at home.”
Bishop Toal also noted that weddings and funerals continue to be celebrated during the emergency, and that priests continue daily to offer Holy Mass, which is always and everywhere an act of the whole Church. “I and the clergy of the Diocese offer our prayers and support to you through our continued celebration of Mass,” he wrote, “which we have the great privilege of offering daily.”
2,309 people tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday of this week — 8.1% of the tests carried out on the day — bringing the total number of current positive cases in the country of just over 5.6 million inhabitants to 146,024.