The French Council of State ruled on Monday that a ban on religious gatherings in the country is a disproportionate response to the coronavirus pandemic, and ordered the government to lift the ban within eight days.
Religious gatherings have been prohibited in the country for eight weeks, since the country’s shelter-in-place lockdowns were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Except for funerals, a ban on indoor religious gatherings was included in the May 11 policies for the country’s reopening, even while small gatherings were permitted in other public places.
The Council of State ruled May 18 that since gatherings of fewer than 10 people are permitted in other places, “the general and absolute prohibition [on religious gatherings] is disproportionate…and therefore constitutes a serious and manifest violation of the freedom of worship.”
It is not yet clear how many people will be permitted in Masses and other religious gatherings in France as a result of the decision. In Italy, which reopened public Masses May 18, Mass attendance is curtailed to only a fraction of capacity of churches. In several U.S. states, Mass attendance is restricted to no more than 10 people.
It is also not clear whether French Catholics will return to Mass. While 41% of people in France identified themselves as Catholic in a 2019 survey, fewer than 5% of them reported attending Sunday Mass before the pandemic struck. The percentage of people in France identifying themselves as a Catholic has fallen considerably in recent decades: in 2001, nearly 70% of French people regarded themselves as Catholic.
Nearly 180,000 people in France have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 28,000 are recorded dead from the disease. France has one of the highest reported death rates from the virus in the world, but new diagnoses and fatalities have slowed dramatically in recent weeks.