Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of new restrictions on Saturday, to come into effect November 5 (Thursday), affecting travel and commerce, social interaction, and public worship. The measures will stay in place for a period of four weeks, and include: a “Stay at home” order; closure of all non-essential retail outlets, leisure venues, and recreational facilities; severe restrictions on hospitality providers.
Public worship is suspended — funerals excepted, though there is a cap of thirty persons in attendance — and houses of worship are to remain closed unless they are being used for funerals, or the broadcast of acts of worship, individual prayer, formal childcare or where the house of worship is part of a school, essential volunteer activity and public services (eg blood donation or food banks), or for meetings of exempted support groups.
Ceremonial events “such as stone settings and ash scatterings can also continue with up to 15 people in attendance,” the government website explains. “Anyone working is not included.”
Announcing the new measures, Mr Johnson said: “[N]o responsible Prime Minister can ignore the message,” of the figures presented in support of the restrictions, which confirm a spike in infections already observed and project a major spike in hospitalisation and mortality if the rate of spread is not slowed.
The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, however, were quick to point out Saturday evening that churches and other houses of worship have not been shown to contribute to the spread of the virus.
“[W]e have not yet seen any evidence whatsoever that would make the banning of communal worship, with all its human costs, a productive part of combatting the virus,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP of Liverpool — respectively President and Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales — in a statement issued Saturday evening in the wake of the announcement. “We ask the government to produce this evidence that justifies the cessation of acts of public worship.”
The CBCEW leadership also noted the “vital role” that faith communities have played “in sustaining personal, spiritual and mental health and encouraging vital charitable activities, which support hundreds of thousands of people in all sections of the community, especially the most vulnerable.” They went on to say that the service faith communities have provided — and continue to provide — to common good “is created and sustained by communal worship and prayer,” and noted that faith communities’ “strong ethic of responsibility” has informed the way in which the Catholic community has reopened churches in a manner that has allowed communities to offer “essential worship” safely.
“Our communities,” they said, “have done a great deal to make our churches safe places in which all have been able to gather in supervised and disciplined ways.”
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