London houses of worship remained open this weekend, despite Friday’s call from Mayor Sadiq Khan for a grant of extraordinary powers to declare them closed as part of his response to the coronavirus emergency – a move the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has resisted.
In response to the call from the mayor, the Archdiocese of Westminster cited the extraordinary measures Catholic churches, Church leaders, and lay faithful have taken to ensure safety. The statement also noted the lack of evidence to suggest churches are aiding the spread of the virus.
Earlier in the week, when the new lockdown measures — expected to last well into February — were announced, Cardinal Nichols also cited the indispensable contribution to well-being both spiritual and corporal that churches have been providing throughout the emergency.
Figures released late last week showed that as many as 1% of Londoners may be infected, while one in 30 London hospital beds is taken by a Covid-19 patient.
Mayor Khan declared a ‘Major Incident’ in the city and wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asking for power to declare houses of worship closed.
The Archdiocese of Westminster issued a statement on Friday, saying: “Our responsibility is to follow public health guidance, as set by central government, and make places of worship as safe as possible.”
“This we have done,” the statement continued, noting also the ready compliance with strict guidelines on wearing masks, keeping social distance, and consistent cleaning.
“[T]he latest judgment of central government is that our churches are safe,” the statement from the Archdiocese also noted.
“There is no evidence that Churches are places where infection is spreading,” Westminster said. “We will continue to abide by the public health guidance,” the statement continued, “and work with government to ensure the continued safety of all who come to our churches for prayer and public worship.”
Houses of worship in England and Wales remain open, but several churches across denominations have taken the decision not to meet.
“Catholic parishes,” said Cardinal Nichols last week, “will continue to serve the needs of their local community.”
Responses in other parts of the United Kingdom have been very different.
Scotland has closed churches, with weddings and funerals excepted (albeit with reduced participation), and Northern Ireland has also closed worship houses.