16 January 2018
Catholic bishop decries ‘hypocrisy’ of closed churches
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for churches to remain open
The Catholic bishop of Portsmouth Diocese has decried the “hypocrisy” of churches that claim to be missional and yet keep their doors locked.
In a tweet on Sunday Bishop Philip Egan said: “Why oh why?! Just spent a few days outside the Diocese but every Catholic church I tried to visit was locked. One even had the utter hypocrisy to display a poster ‘From Maintenance to Mission’. Why is this, when every Anglican church is welcomely open?”
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for churches to remain open. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which focuses on the proclamation of the Gospel, he said: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.”
In 2015 ahead of the Year of Mercy, the Holy Father again entreated the Faithful to unlock church doors, and he spoke out after the terrorist attack on a parish in Rouen to encourage priests to keep the doors unlocked despite security fears.
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Church said there was no countrywide policy in the UK regarding church doors remaining open and that individual bishops made their own policies. “I expect it is very linked to location and the ability of the parish priest to ensure that the church will be safe from vandalism, due in part to the fact that the parishioners will be popping in from time to time to pray”, she added.
Several churches in London have fallen victim to vandalism, but a Church source in the capital said that this was not the only reason some priests kept the doors locked. The source told The Tablet that in some cases priests, who are managing 4-5 parishes, are simply not able to attend to all the churches under their care.
Marie Senior, Parish Secretary at St Alban’s Catholic church in Macclesfield, told The Tablet that although they had experienced burglaries and damage to the church building in the past, they retained an open-door policy. The doors are opened from 8am to dusk, which she said had been the case for the forty years she had attended the parish.
Ann Dalzell, another parishioner, said the welcoming parishioners and the example of their parish priest had helped foster a culture of openness. She said it had led to people in need being able to access a priest at crucial moments, giving the example of a man struggling with suicidal thoughts who found comfort after wandering into the church one evening after Mass. “That’s an example of someone who was absolutely desperate and felt able to come in…we want to reach out to whoever needs us,” she said.
Dr Dalzell, who has been worshipping at St Alban’s for nearly twenty years, said she thought it helped that the parish was a busy one where there was always someone around. She cited the 60 different groups, including mother and baby groups and outreach teams, that met regularly in the parish centre.
The Church of England advises an open-door policy in its dioceses. According to ChurchCare, the division of the Archbishop’s Council devoted to the upkeep of church buildings and cathedrals, locked churches are more likely to be attacked than unlocked ones. A statement on their website says: “A church locked to keep thieves and vandals out is also a church closed to its community.”
The Tablet has invited Bishop Egan to comment.
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