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UNITED KINGDOM, April 8, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have issued guidance to hospital chaplains suggesting that priests make themselves available by telephone, rather than attend to dying patients in person due to the “escalation of the Coronavirus.”

The statement reads: “it is becoming increasingly clear that giving access to chaplains is difficult due to scarcity of PPE [personal protective equipment], the risk of contagion to the chaplain as well as the chaplain becoming another link in the chain of infection.”

The bishops advise chaplaincy coordinators to work with hospital staff to “ensure that contact details of chaplains and priests are available for telephone support of those who need it.”

“Whilst this runs counter to our instinct to provide personal end-of-life sacramental and pastoral care, in the circumstances minimising the spread of the virus must be the priority of all,” the statement concludes.

Catholic journalist Damian Thompson tweeted in response to the guidance: “Catholic bishops in England and Wales abandon their sacred duty to visit the sick and give last rites for fear of contagion. Offer 'telephone support' instead. This is stupid (surely possible to give sacraments in controlled conditions) and… the word ‘cowardly’ comes to mind.”

Thompson, an Associate Editor for The Spectator, has tweeted a number of times today in response to the guidance, including sharing a quote from a priest friend who says bishops are ready to suspend priests who question the policy.

“Just spoke to priest friend horrified by this statement (and pointing out its trademark incoherence). He says bishops are ready and willing to suspend priests who question policy: ‘It’s up to lay people to speak out,’” he wrote earlier today.

In response to Thompson’s post, Edmund Adamus, a former director for pastoral affairs for the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, shared a photo of two priests attending to a coronavirus patient in PPE.

“God bless these two priests: photo sent to me this morning! Clearly they are WORKING according to the regs of the Hospital within which THEY are COURAGEOUSLY bringing the LAST RITES to SOULS in DESPERATE NEED of the SANCTIFYING GRACE to which CHRIST wants them to have IN EXTREMIS,” Adaums wrote.

Catholic churches in the U.K. are closed as part of the ongoing nationwide lockdown. The Catholic bishops 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.