‘Arbitrary and unfair’: Catholic bishops protest Scotland's church services ban

pews, church
Unsplash/Karl Fredrickson

Scotland’s Catholic Bishops denounced a recently implemented national lockdown that prevents worship gatherings from taking place.

In a statement released Tuesday, the bishops took issue with the Scottish government’s restrictions on in-person worship, scheduled to take effect on Friday and last until Feb. 1.

The bishops argued that public health measures enacted back in March “to ensure public safety in our churches have been effective.”

“No evidence has been forthcoming to justify the inclusion of places of worship as sources of infection. Without such scientific evidence these restrictions will appear to Catholics to be arbitrary and unfair,” they stated.

“We are very aware of the disappointment these closures will cause not only to our own Catholic community, but to many of our fellow-Christians and those of other faiths in Scotland.”

The Catholic leaders also contrasted their situation with that of churches in neighboring England, which have been allowed to remain open amid their pandemic shutdown. 

“We wish to emphasise again the spiritual, social and psychological benefits provided by continuing public worship, and we ask for these to be taken into full account in future decisions,” they continued.

“Public worship is a human right and is a duty humanity owes to God. More concretely, Catholics need the Eucharist and the Sacramental encounter with the LORD as necessary to their spiritual wellbeing and their ultimate salvation.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish government, announced Monday that the United Kingdom country was going to begin a national stay-at-home order on Tuesday.

Sturgeon explained in a speech before Scottish Parliament that a “new faster spreading variant of the virus” required them to enact “tougher restrictions” comparable to a shutdown they enacted last March until more of the country is vaccinated.

“In the week from 23 to 30 December, the seven day incidence of cases per 100,000 of the population increased by 65% - from 136 per 100,000 to 225 per 100,000,” she said in an address before Scottish Parliament.

“And if the rate of increase in case numbers that we have seen in past two weeks was to continue unchecked, there would be a real risk of our [National Health Service] being overwhelmed - even with contingency plans in place.”

The new restrictions involved making it “only be permissible to leave home for an essential purpose,” according to Sturgeon, which include “caring responsibilities, essential shopping, exercise and being part of an extended household.”

Also, as part of the first measures put into place on Tuesday, permitted outdoor gatherings went from a maximum of six people from two households to two people from up to two households, excluding children aged 11 or under.

Regarding religious services, Sturgeon explained that in-person worship will be banned except for gatherings like funerals with no more than 20 attendees and wedding services with no more than five attendees.

“It is with real regret that we consider it necessary for places of worship to close during this period for all purposes except broadcasting a service, or conducting a funeral, wedding or civil partnership,” she stated.

“I am well aware of how important communal worship is to people. But we believe that this restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission.”

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