Bishop hopes Government 'will see sense' over re-opening of churches

(Photo: Unsplash/Kyler Nixon)

The Catholic Bishop of Plymouth has said he hopes the Government "will see sense" and allow church buildings to re-open to the public soon. 

Bishop Mark O'Toole said in a pastoral message to commemorate St Boniface on Friday, that the saint's steadfast faith in spite of life's trials was a model for believers "during this terrible pandemic". 

"I think of this most especially in these days of global pandemic, and especially for us Catholics as we continue to experience the continued closure of our churches," he said.

"We hope and pray that the Government will see sense soon, and give us permission to open, at least some of them, for personal prayer, within a few weeks."

Catholic leaders have strongly criticised the continued closure of churches due to coronavirus at a time when places like car showrooms and markets have been allowed to re-open. 

On Pentecost Sunday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said he was confident churches could re-open safely for individual prayer. 

"What is the risk to a person who sits quietly in a church which is being thoroughly cleaned, properly supervised and in which social distancing is maintained?" he said. 

"The benefits of being able to access places of prayer is profound, on individual and family stability and, significantly, on their willingness to help others in their need.

"It is now time to move to the phased opening of our churches."

This week, the Archbishop of Southwark said in a letter to the Prime Minister that there was "a growing sense of dissatisfaction" that churches are forced to remain closed.

"Religious faith can help support people, both directly and indirectly, with respect to their wellbeing. Access to places of worship is integral to this," he said. 

The Government has said places of worship can re-open from July 4 at the earliest.

The Prime Minister has refused to bring the date forward, saying at PMQs on Wednesday that it is too early to re-open places of worship. 

"I very much understand the urgency that many people in this country feel about the need to reopen places of worship," he said. 

"It is a tough one: every time we do something like this, we push up the risk of infection and the risk of pushing up the R again."

He added: "We are not there yet. We are getting there, but we are not yet there. It is vital that the people of this country understand the continued need to push down on the infection rate."