The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has questioned why car showrooms and outdoor markets are allowed to re-open to the public but not church buildings.
With many restrictions easing and non-essential shops opening again in a couple of weeks, Cardinal Vincent Nichols used his Pentecost Sunday homily to say that it was time for the phased re-opening of churches.
He said the period of waiting for church doors to open again had been "hard" but the Church had accepted the Government's guidance "because the protection of life required it".
Now, the Government's greenlight for indoor sales rooms and shops to re-open "questions directly the reasons why our churches remain closed", he said.
"We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?" he said.
"The importance of faith to so many people is clear. The role of faith in our society has been made even clearer in these last weeks: as a motivation for the selfless care of the sick and dying; as providing crucial comfort in bereavement; as a source of immense and effective provision for those in sharp and pressing need; as underpinning a vision of the dignity of every person, a dignity that has to be at the heart of the rebuilding of our society.
"The opening of our churches, even if just for individual prayer, helps to nurture this vital contribution to our common good."
The Cardinal went on to say he was "confident" that churches could be re-opened in a way that was safe for individual visitors.
"We have developed expert guidance. We are ready to follow the Government's guidelines as soon as they are finalised," he said.
"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?
"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."