No pews, holy water or hymn books in Catholic church post-lockdown plan

St Patrick’s Church, Dumbarton; Archbishop Cushley; Bishop John Keenan, the Church hierarchy and Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.

By Bill Heaney

A senior bishop has suggested social-distancing measures which could be implemented to allow church buildings to reopen if lockdown is relaxed.

The strategy could include the removal of pews and the suspension of the sign of peace, the use of holy water at the back of churches and the use of hymn books and news bulletins.

The Church will approach the Scottish government with its proposals.

It will also establish a working group of outside advisers to draw up a strategy to allow buildings to open again and the celebration of Mass to return.

Some of the suggested measures were already in place ahead of lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic grew in Scotland.

Bishop John Keenan, of Paisley Diocese, which covers Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, said the Church has been in discussions with the Scottish government over issues such as funerals, which have been restricted to immediate family of the deceased.

‘Parishes hit financially’

An independent group will now be formed to draw up a strategy but Bishop Keenan said some changes to normal practice will be needed.

“We are not going to ask for our churches to be open when we don’t think it is safe,” he said.


The number of people in each pew could be reduced to two.

“One priest in a big church looked at social distancing – he had a church of 500 and he said that the maximum you could get in was 60, maybe two to a bench for instance.”

He also said parishes have been hit financially by the closures.

“In our diocese, we are OK for the first part of the year but the longer it goes on the tougher it will get,” he said.

“Most Catholics still want to give money to the Church on a weekly basis if we would give them means to do so.

“Some have been furloughed or lost jobs so they might not be able to, but a lot have been contacting their parish priest to ask how to donate.

“I think ultimately we will be fine because if we put in place natural and easy means where people can donate they will do so.”

‘Exploring how to move forward’

Other plans include giving those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic an opportunity to say goodbye, as they may have been restricted from being present in the hospital or at the funeral.

Bishop Keenan said: “Every priest I would say has buried someone with Covid.

“We are conscious that once the lockdown is over we’ll need to provide means for the family to grieve.”

Conroy Canon Gerry
Canon Gerry Conroy

Canon Gerry Conroy, left, parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, said: “The sooner we get the Churches open the better as far as I am concerned.

“I realise it is very difficult for the government and they are trying to look to the well-being of everyone, as must we all. It is very difficult for families at funerals, not only when they don’t have access to the Church, but the limits placed on people at the Crematoria and graveside is heartbreaking.

“The physical presence or in this case distance is a heavy burden. Hopefully, if we are not at the end, we are  – to paraphrase – at the beginning of the end of this horrible period. I think people understand the need for social distancing, but there is still pain there.”

Canon Conroy added: “As regards the money, I am very grateful for the number of people that have made use of direct debits and bank transfers; it helps with cash flow issues.

“Fortunately the weather is getting warmer and so we don’t have to keep heating on or use so much electricity in the buildings so the bills will not to be as high as if it were mid-winter.

“I’m sure many people are struggling, as it said in the report, because of the lockdown, so everyone is in the same boat; we just have to support one another to get through it.”

In a message to parishioners, Archbishop Leo Cushley, of St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese, said: “We’re doing what we can as bishops to speak to the Government and the authorities so that we are exploring how to move forward, what the next steps will be and how to open our churches as soon as we possibly can do so, doing it safely and doing it well.”

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