A medical expert and healthcare advisor to the Bishops’ Conference has cautioned against one bishop’s suggestion that Catholics visit and lay hands on their parish churches during lockdown.
Yesterday the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, tweeted: “If you’re able to go out for some exercise today, here’s a suggestion. Visit your parish church in order to touch it - wipe it clean afterwards! - and in a moment of prayer unite yourself with the Risen Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, making a spiritual communion.”
The Bishops’ Conference has consistently urged Catholics to follow Government guidance during the lockdown to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, and to make acts of Spiritual Communion from home. The Government guidance currently reads: “Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home). If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times.”
Professor Jim McManus, a Director of Public Health, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health UK and healthcare advisor to the Bishops’ Conference, told The Tablet that Bishop Egan’s advice could lead people to contravene that guidance.
“Catholics need to be seen to be living the restrictions on others as an act of solidarity and charity to help stop the spread of this virus. If our Holy Father is embracing and living these restrictions, and praying through them then we should do likewise,” he said.
“Social distancing means we avoid journeys wherever possible and don’t touch surfaces we don’t need to. This protects others and ourselves from spreading the virus. If you can easily exercise in a way which takes you to or past your parish church as part of exercise then stopping for a moment to bow to the Blessed Sacrament is fine. Some of us live several miles from church and making a journey solely to do that fails to live out these guidelines and is not keeping faith with the burden we all have to bear right now,” he added.
One parishioner Tweeted a reply to Bishop Egan indicating that they had followed his suggestion and visited their parish church to touch it while praying. Twitter user “epsilon” who describes herself as a Catholic mother living in the UK posted a picture of herself touching the church door, and holding her rosary against the door. She was wearing gloves and appeared to be holding hand sanitiser.
Almost 14,000 people have died with the coronavirus in the UK at the time of going to press. The global death toll stands at 147,376 people.
The Diocese of Portsmouth did not respond to a request for comment.