As shops reopen, UK cardinal says ‘it’s time to move to the phased opening of our churches’
LONDON, June 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The leading Catholic cleric in the U.K. has said that “[i]t is now time to move to the phased opening of our churches” after the government announced that most shops can open on June 15. Many restaurants and pubs in the U.K. have already re-opened for takeaway orders.
“Last week’s announcements by the Prime Minister that some indoor sales premises can open tomorrow and that most shops can open on 15th June, questions directly the reasons why our churches remain closed,” Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, said during a homily yesterday.
“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?” Nichols asked.
In March, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales prohibited the celebration of public Masses before the lockdown came into force and, according to their own statement, played a crucial role themselves in convincing the government to require that churches be closed altogether.
Addressing an empty Westminster Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday, Nichols compared his waiting for the U.K. government to okay the opening of churches with the apostles at Pentecost.
“Today we think of the group of disciples, with Mary, waiting, as they were bidden, in the Upper Room. The doors were closed. Jesus came and breathed upon them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ Then they were empowered, fired by that gift which is also described as being ‘like tongues of flame.’ Flinging open the doors, out they came, ready at last for their mission,” he said.
“We, too, are waiting to open these doors, the doors of our churches. The waiting has been hard, but we have accepted the government's decision to close our churches because the protection of life required it.”
Churches and other places of worship in the U.K. have been closed since Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced a nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus on March 23. When the U.K. government made significant relaxations to lockdown restrictions in May, it was initially said that places of worship wouldn’t be permitted to open before July 4.
But the government has now established a “task force” in consultation with senior religious leaders, including Nichols, to discuss the possibility of opening churches sooner than that date.
“The importance of faith to so many people is clear,” Nichols said yesterday.
“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,” he continued.
Nichols stressed that opening churches “must be done safely,” adding that he is confident they could be and that the bishops “are ready to follow the Government's guidelines as soon as they are finalised.”
Last month, 20 British members of Parliament wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for churches to be allowed to open for private prayer, weddings, and funerals in June.
Last week, 24 Christian leaders, including Church of England bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote to the U.K. government, urging officials to open the churches and contesting the legal status of the lockdown measures.
“There is no precedent for state legislation which in any manner limits and/or criminalises church services or sacraments,” the letter states.