Closure of Churches: Safety or Scandal?

Roisín Coll, Fr Stephen Reilly and Anna Blackman

Photo by Rafael Albaladejo on Pexels.com

The announcement on Sunday that we were to enter another severe lockdown left many of us scrambling to get organised for what lies ahead in these next four weeks. Indeed, closure of schools means that teachers and parents alike are having to prepare for another period of challenges where we try to do our best to get things right for our children. Schools across the country are working relentlessly to support the learning of our young people and the established key partnerships with parents, the local communities, local authorities and so on are critical at this time to ensure there is minimum disruption to children’s learning and their health and wellbeing. For Catholic schools in Scotland, one of most significant partnerships in terms of the education of children is the relationship with the Church. Much has been written about the ‘three-legged stool’ or ‘catechetical triangle’ in terms of the religious education of Catholic children and the particular roles of home, parish and school in developing and nurturing children’s faith. Indeed, it is recognised that even with the knowledge that many children in Catholic schools do not attend church with their families, the strong relationship that many priests have with their local Catholic school ensures that the responsibility of the parish to impact on children’s faith is realised. The complete closure of Catholic churches in Scotland once more means that this ‘leg’ of the stool is not able to function as normal and, therefore, may have a negative impact on the faith development and religious education of pupils. We need only remind ourselves of the hundreds of children across the country that have not yet made their First Holy Communion or received the Sacrament of Confirmation, nearly a year on from when they should.  

Closing our churches has been controversial. The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland issued a statement on Tuesday of this week announcing how it was ‘perplexed’ by the decision and highlighted ‘the spiritual, social and psychological benefits provided by continuing public worship’. However, there are others within the Church that are fully supportive of the Scottish Government’s decision to close places of worship and accept that the Catholic community have to suspend their right to worship for the greater good.  

Having spoken with a range of people, with different viewpoints, what follows is a summary of the arguments for and against the closure of our Churches. The lists are not comprehensive but are indicative of the passionate responses to this controversial decision. We would love to hear your opinions on the matter to enrich this debate. 

Reasons for keeping churches open 

  • To worship publicly is a human right 
  • Closing churches can isolate the elderly and vulnerable
  • The daily or weekly opportunity to be part of the parish community is lost
  • Churches have established a system to minimise any contact between parishioners and have taken all the expected precautions. There is no evidence to suggest that churches are major sites of infection. Given the measures taken, churches are probably some of the safest places to be
  • People are free to go to supermarkets and use public transport be it buses/trains/planes therefore, why can’t people be allowed to socially distance in church?
  • Other sectors, previously closed when churches were closed, are now allowed to remain open (e.g. construction, elite sports). Why are churches different?
  • Mass is not all that happens at church e.g. youth ministry/SVP groups etc no longer function as a result of the closures
  • Catholics need the Eucharist and that sacramental encounter with Christ to nourish their spiritual wellbeing
  • The churches in England remain open making it appear that the need to protect the spiritual welfare of people is more ardently recognised 
  • There are spiritual, social and psychological benefits provided by continuing public worship
  • Supermarkets remain open and are much busier and often not well controlled
  • This is about the scope and limit of government action vis a vis religious liberty 
  • Not all parishioners have access to the internet and online provision 

Reasons for closing churches 

  • We have a responsibility to show our solidarity with wider society-it is not just about our right to worship
  • The sacrifice involved in not attending Mass is a form of solidarity with others who are unable to join together with their communities and those unable to worship publicly 
  • The sacrifice made in not being able to publicly worship, is a sacrifice that benefits our neighbours by keeping them safe and limiting the spread of COVID as we ourselves are a source of threat. The most loving thing we can do is keep our distance
  • Compliance with the rules and solidarity with wider society builds confidence which will have longer term advantages for re-opening
  • Many of those that attend weekly or daily mass are elderly and vulnerable
  • Everyone is a potential threat to the spread of COVID and closing churches removes the need to move people about on public transport, car sharing and so on
  • Faith and spirituality is about our whole lives and is not just something we do at church on a Sunday therefore there are many other ways we can pray
  • Many clergy are deeply anxious about their responsibility to stop infection and welcome the government measures in light of the powerful new Covid strain
  • The closures present opportunities to evolve new ways of effective communication and prayer: eg. online Masses, family prayer, online rosary
  • Parishes’ online responses to the closure presents opportunities for wider access to prayer and Mass. People who want to go to Mass can attend online and have a choice of where to attend from across the world
  • Christians should be setting an example of charity and solidarity, showing love to thy neighbour i.e. by protecting them
  • Not being able to receive the Eucharist gives us insight and encourages empathy with those that cannot usually attend

Let us know what you think on this matter. Reply below.

5 thoughts on “Closure of Churches: Safety or Scandal?

    • As a community we need to care for each other. Many people come together in Church to be present with our Priests to support each other in prayer and the Sacraments
      In a secular society this need is not understood.
      Holy Mass with attendance in Church is necessary as the benefits outweighs the so called risk
      Everyone in our Church has adhered to the rules. Our Churches should be open.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you for this worthwhile blog detailing many of the arguments we are seeing in public discourse and on social media at present. The pastoral letter from Bishop Toal published today (https://www.facebook.com/2036087446646411/posts/2766661036922378/?d=n) seems very reasoned and strikes a much better tone than some other recent comments which, in my view, undermine the Church and our commitment to the common good. Given the uncertainties surrounding the virus, and in particular the latest strain, it seems appropriate to ask everyone to stay at home except where this is completely impossible. It also reminds us that the Church cannot be confined to a building, and Jesus cannot be kept within four walls. Now it’s our responsibility to follow Christ’s example to show love and support to those who are most vulnerable during these most challenging circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I believe our churches should remain closed. We have a responsibility to care for each other & not give this virus the chance to spread. Our hospitals struggle with capacity every Winter, the continued onslaught & persistence of this infectious virus is taking it’s toll, not just evidenced by the tragic loss of life; but by the mental, emotional & physical affects on our NHS staff, nurses, doctors, researchers, pharmacists, emergency services workers & public-facing employees in numerous professions. Whilst we miss receiving the Eucharist, I believe the challenges of this pandemic, including missing Mass, give us a greater opportunity to develop our faith & making a spiritual communion. Perhaps we could unite ourselves in prayer with those who hardly get access to a priest or the Eucharist in ‘normal times’? Remore & rural communities for example, in Africa & South America are lucky if they have a visiting priest a couple times a year. Perhaps we need to individually & collectively explore other ways of bringing online Masses to our elderly & vulnerable who don’t have internet access etc. Perhaps we need to petition political leaders (not just across Scotland & UK but internationally) to make the correct decisions that always put the safety & welfare of people first. Let’s be confident & resilient in calling out corruption & actions that are taken for political or individual gain. Let’s unite in faith & solidarity that our collective prayers can ease the suffering in plain sight, caused either directly or indirectly by this pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks. The blog was very useful in setting out the discussion points. The letter from our Bishop in Motherwell was also excellent. In these unprecedented times we require sacrifice for the common good. I note a few friends quote “it’s not fair – churches in England are open”. Well, this will change very quickly given the horrendous COVID numbers we see daily. In fact, the Anglican Bishop of London has chosen to close now in support of the vulnerable and the common good. Take care. Participate in the many online and/or TV faith opportunities for communion with others Stay home. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

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