By Cian Molloy - 31 May, 2020
In a homily to be given in Westminster Cathedral later today, Cardinal Vin Nichols will ask the British government: Why are car showrooms being allowed reopen tomorrow, but churches must keep their doors closed and locked?
Unlike Ireland, where church buildings across the country are now open for private prayer, in Britain places of worship remain off-limits to visitors.
Remembering how the disciples, once they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, flung open the doors on the first Pentecost to take on the mission of the Church, Cardinal Nichols is due to say: “We, too, are waiting to open these doors, the doors of our churches. The waiting has been hard but we have accepted the Government’s decision to close our churches because the protection of life required it. But this week’s announcements by the Prime Minister that some indoor sales premises can open tomorrow and that most shops can open on 15 June, questions directly the reasons why our churches remain closed.
“We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?
“The importance of faith to so many people is clear. The role of faith in our society has been made even clearer in these last weeks: as a motivation for the selfless care of the sick and dying; as providing crucial comfort in bereavement; as a source of immense and effective provision for those in sharp and pressing need; as underpinning a vision of the dignity of every person, a dignity that has to be at the heart of the rebuilding of our society.
“The opening of our churches, even if just for individual prayer, helps to nurture this vital contribution to our common good.”
The cardinal acknowledges that the reopening of churches must be done safely, but says he is confident that this can be achieved given that diocese and parishes have developed “expert guidance” and are ready to follow government guidelines as soon as they are finalised.
“What is the risk to a person who sits quietly in a church which is being thoroughly cleaned, properly supervised and in which social distancing is maintained?” the cardinal asks. “The benefits of being able to access places of prayer is profound, on individual and family stability and, significantly, on their willingness to help others in their need.
“It is now time to move to the phased opening of our churches.”
The UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been much criticised: at first, the UK prime minister refused to introduce social distancing measures, claiming that “a herd immunity” would develop naturally among the population if such measures were not introduced. Then the British government refused an offer to join an EU initiative to procure personal protective equipment for frontline workers, leaving NHS doctors and nurses reliant on home-made makeshift measures.
Already, there have been more than 60,000 British fatalities attributed to COVID-19 and, according to the University of Oxford, the country is experiencing a COVID-19 fatality rate of 4.49 deaths per million people per day, which is the third highest COVID-19 fatality rate in the world after Sweden and Brazil.
In Ireland, where churches are open for private visits, there are growing calls for churches to be able to host Masses, especially requiems. One priest, who asked not to be identified, said: “It is heart-breaking for families to have funeral services where only 10 people can be present – surely larger churches, where social distancing can be easily achieved, should be allowed to host funeral services.”
Following reports that the Church of the Guardian Angels in Blackrock, Co.Dublin, had allowed 39 people to attend a Mass within its vast interior, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin issued a statement condemning the development. He said: “Public health policy will only work when its proposals and sequencing are fully respected by all. There is no room for self-dispensation from or self-interpretation of the norms. Jumping the queue by individuals or communities puts everyone at risk. I have reminded all parishes this week that disregard for the norms of public health is something that is unacceptable.”