A woman prays during Mass at the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in London July 4, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic leaders in England are appealing to the government to reverse its decision to ban public Mass during a second national lockdown. CNS photo/Isabel Infantes, PA Images via Reuters

UK bishops want evidence public Masses must be stopped in lockdown

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • November 2, 2020

MANCHESTER, England -- Catholic leaders in England are appealing to the government to reverse its decision to ban public Mass during a second national lockdown.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool said in a joint statement that the prohibition of public communal worship was "a source of deep anguish" to the church.

They challenged the government to produce evidence to justify the ban and urged Catholics to write to their members of Parliament to attempt to amend the restrictions before a Nov. 4 vote.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced during an Oct. 31 televised address that England would enter lockdown again on Nov. 5 for a minimum of four weeks after scientists predicted that COVID-19 victims would be dying at the rate of 4,000 a day by Christmas without a dramatic intervention. More than a million people in the U.K. have been infected with coronavirus since the first recorded case there in January. The official number of deaths from COVID-19 is nearly 47,000, though other estimates have been much higher.

Under lockdown restrictions, the only collective worship permitted would be funeral ceremonies attended by fewer than 30 people, although churches could stay open for private prayer and food banks.

Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and Archbishop McMahon, vice president, said hours later that another lockdown would "bring hardship, distress and suffering to many."

"Faith communities have played a vital role 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 said Oct. 31.

"Our communities have done a great deal to make our churches safe places in which all have been able to gather in supervised and disciplined ways.

The statement said bishops "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," and they asked the government to produce such evidence.

The U.K. first entered lockdown March 23, and it was not until mid-June that shops and churches began to reopen, with Mass allowed in public only from July.

Rates of infection by COVID-19 have accelerated since September, however, following the reopening of schools, colleges and universities, prompting the Welsh government to put the country into a lockdown, which will expire Nov. 9, and the Scottish government to introduce restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus.

Johnson attempted to control infections in England with a system of tiers that introduced restrictions depending on the rates of COVID in particular regions. He has said that after four weeks of lockdown England will revert to the tier system.

But the bishops have no wish for public Mass to be halted for a second time, especially since senior members of the government have indicated that the lockdown would only be reviewed in December and could continue for long after.

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