In a statement released yesterday evening, May 11, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales responded to new government coronavirus guidelines on the easing of current lockdown restrictions. The Bishops raised concerns that the new measures, which keep places of worship closed until at least July 4, “fail to recognise” the needs of the faithful.
In its updated guidelines, titled Our plan to rebuild, the UK Government added that churches, if unable to ensure sufficient social distancing in July, “may still not be able to re-open safely” during the third and final stage of its new exit strategy.
In their response, the Bishops noted that they have already submitted a “detailed plan” for churches to re-open for private prayer “in full accordance with public health guidelines”. The bishops offered to assist the government by piloting these plans as a “first safe step” in the process of church re-openings.
The following is the full text of the Bishops’ statement:
The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The Government’s document and statements fail to recognise this.
The Government’s position, established today, includes these steps aimed at opening churches as soon as possible: the establishment of a task force for places of worship, to work closely with ‘stakeholders’ in ensuring that premises are COVID-19 secure; and heeding the experience of other countries in which churches are already open for worship.
In dialogue with the Government, the Catholic Church will continue its engagement in this process and has already submitted a detailed plan, in full accordance with public health guidelines, for churches to be opened for private prayer.
The Church is ready to play its full part in the task force, understanding that this includes the possible earlier use of churches for private prayer, as a first safe step towards their use for public worship.