The Catholic Church in England and Wales has released a statement accusing the government of failing to recognize the “spiritual needs” of the people in its plan to relax restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The Government’s document and statements fail to recognize this,” said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales.
As has happened in other countries, the UK government has judged the spiritual needs of the population to be “non-essential” in its consideration of when and how to re-open churches for prayer and public worship.
Thus, in Monday’s 20,000-word plan to gradually release the United Kingdom from its lockdown restrictions, the government has said that as of Wednesday, sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, which includes “food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories.”
“The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring to remain closed.”
While manufacturing and research and even recreation are immediately rebooted, however, no such provisions are made for the spiritual needs of the population, which must wait nearly two months — until July 4 — to reopen, together with cinemas, pubs, and beauty salons.
In their weakly worded protest, the UK bishops make no attempt to address the religious liberty issue at the base of the categorization of sacramental life as “non-essential,” but instead continue to offer conciliatory words aimed more at appeasement than confrontation.
“The Government’s position, established today, includes these steps aimed at opening churches as soon as possible: the establishment of a task force for places of worship, to work closely with ‘stakeholders’ in ensuring that premises are COVID-19 secure; and heeding the experience of other countries in which churches are already open for worship,” the bishops note.
“In dialogue with the Government, the Catholic Church will continue its engagement in this process and has already submitted a detailed plan, in full accordance with public health guidelines, for churches to be opened for private prayer,” they state.
“The Church is ready to play its full part in the task force, understanding that this includes the possible earlier use of churches for private prayer, as a first safe step towards their use for public worship,” they conclude.
As a point of comparison, Italy — among the first countries hard hit by the coronavirus — never closed churches for private worship and will reopen public Masses for participation by the faithful on May 18.