Senior Catholics are calling on the Government and the Bishops’ Conference to re-open churches for private prayer, despite a medical expert warning that doing so will contravene lockdown measures in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Universe Media Group, which publishes the newspaper The Catholic Universe, wrote to the Prime Minister last week urging him to allow Catholic churches to re-open to allow people limited access for private prayer because they provide “essential services to the public.”
The call was echoed by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, who said in a Tweet: “On this Divine Mercy Sunday I wonder again about the closure of our churches for private prayer. I know it’s an emergency and so temporary measures are needed. But are we reversing the hierarchy of values, putting physical health above spiritual? Let’s pray we can reopen soon.”
The decision to close churches was taken after the Government announced strict new lockdown measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown prohibits all but essential outings: for daily exercise, or to get food and medicine.
Cardinal Nichols said in a statement announcing the closure: “It’s not essential for people to travel to go to church in order to pray. We have to learn more and more that our prayer is rooted in our hearts and can be shared with our families. Open churches will only tempt people to travel. And that is not good practice now.”
In a separate Tweet last week Bishop Egan also called on Catholics to visit their parish church during their exercise “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.”
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 lockdown 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.