The President of the French Bishops’ Conference said this week that suspending the public celebration of sacraments “undermines religious liberty,” one of the fundamental freedoms in the country.
After consultation with all the bishops of France, Reims Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort filed an appeal with the Council of State requesting that “disproportionate” anti-coronavirus measures imposed within the framework of the state of emergency be lifted.
Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort said these celebrations are “vital” for the spiritual life of the faithful, because they are an encounter with the Lord and with their brothers and sisters.
The archbishop also insisted the Catholic Church had complied fully with other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus from the outset of the pandemic.
An October 29 government decree prescribing new measures to deal with the coronavirus epidemic including the suspension of all public acts of worship.
Together with Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, five other bishops also filed appeals to the same Council of State, deploring that Catholics have been forbidden from going to Mass, “even though schools, supermarkets, and public transport remain open.”
In a column published by Le Figaro newspaper, Dominique Rey, bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, Marc Aillet, bishop of Bayonne, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, bishop of Avignon, David Macaire, bishop of Fort-de-France and Bernard Ginoux, bishop of Montauban said they regret the government’s considered opinion that the fundamental freedom of worship is not an “essential activity.”
“Many Catholics refuse to desert their churches, where the faithful come to find consolation and hope, in these times which are very difficult to go through alone,” they wrote. “The celebration of Mass is not for them a formality of the exercise of their faith but constitutes its source and its summit.”
The bishops’ legal actions join a host of appeals filed by ordinary citizens and lay associations as well as an online petition, which has collected more than 60,000 signatures since its launch on October 30, calling for the maintenance of religious celebrations, in strict compliance with the distancing and sanitation rules already enacted.