29 March 2021, The Tablet

Worshippers return to church in Scotland

Worshippers return to church in Scotland

Canon Paul Gargaro during a service at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Anderston, Glasgow, last Friday after the partial easing of lockdown restrictions in Scotland allowing communal worship to resume.

Worshippers have returned to Scottish churches after the lifting of covid restrictions.

Churches are allowed to admit congregations of up to 50, dependent on social distancing rules and with a restricted liturgy. The reopening followed a legal decision in the Court of Session that found the government to have acted unlawfully in closing churches. Lord Braid found that restrictions had disproportionately interfered with the freedom of religion under the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The finding came following a judicial review launched by 27 Scottish church leaders. Prominent among them was Canon Tom White who welcomed the results of the legal action and said that his parishioners were “over the moon” at being able to return to public worship.

He said: “I think it’s an important victory not so much dependent on your disposition towards how we keep each other safe in this time of pandemic but it’s how we make sure that how we act as a liberal democracy is proportionate and that we don’t at all costs trample on the rights of others.

“Authentic worship is about gathering together as a community. Authentic worship for us in the Catholic tradition is about coming together in a building which is sacred and participating in a sacred space at a sacred time and the sacraments necessarily are tangible. They’re not virtual. Faith is real; it’s tangible and people in this time of pandemic need to embrace the sacred.”

Canon White said that the judicial decision should not be undervalued because churches were set to open anyway.

“Some people think it’s an academic decision . . . but the reality is that the right has been established, that moving forward the Government has to take due precautions and due considerations for people’s fundamental rights”.

The Scottish Bishops tacitly supported the bid for judicial review. Their position was that public worship under clear guidelines appeared to represent no added risk of infection and that the closure of churches was disproportionate and both psychologically and spiritually damaging.

The judicial action was supported by the Christian Legal Centre, whose chief executive Andrea Williams pointed out that “for the first time in history, the Scottish government chose to criminalise gathered church worship. This must never happen again.”

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