VIRUS: CHURCH WHEELS OUT THE EXPERTS

Church infection control group starts work on opening the doors again

Burns Sir Harry
Sir Harry Burns

By Democrat reporter

The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland Covid-19 Working Group, tasked with the creation of an Infection Control Protocol to govern the phased reopening of churches for public worship met for the first time yesterday.

Chaired by Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer and Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Strathclyde, the group will focus on two parallel work streams: Infection Control and Liturgical Norms.

The drafting of infection control standards will be overseen by Sir Harry Burns and Professor Stephany Biello, Professor of Neuroscience and Biopsychology and Dean for Learning and Teaching in Science and Engineering at the University of Glasgow, who has joined the group.

The creation of new liturgical advice which will govern the celebration of Mass and other sacraments, will be led by Bishop Hugh Gilbert together with Canon Thomas Boyle, Canon Thomas Shields and Fr. Gerry MacGuiness.

Sir Harry said:  “I’m very pleased that the Working Group on Infection Control has started to work and delighted to welcome Professor Stephany Biello as a member.

“Her expertise will be invaluable to the group. We are keenly aware, that the goal of reopening churches will be reached only after careful planning and preparation, always taking account of best infection control practice and in step with Scottish Government guidance.

“I extend my thanks to all those contributing to the work of the group and assure the Catholic community that Scotland’s bishops are determined to draw on best practice from around the world to allow our churches to be opened again in a phased and safe way.”

Bishop McGee and his cathedral, St Columba’s in Oban. Picture by Bill Heaney

Meanwhile, the bishops have announced the formation of a second Covid-19 Working Group, which will begin examining how best to meet the long-term pastoral needs of the Catholic community during the pandemic.

A range of approaches, focusing on the liturgical, spiritual and welfare needs of the Catholic community during a time of long-term restrictions will be examined by a newly established Pastoral Ministry Working Group.

This group will aim to ensure that the Church is prepared for the possibility of extended restrictions on the operation of parishes and dioceses by planning for forms of pastoral ministry which will be viable in the COVID-19 context.

The group will be chaired by Bishop Brian McGee, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, who said: “After our public Masses stopped and our Churches closed with almost no warning, the immediate response from our priests and parishioners across Scotland was both impressive and uplifting.

“With great ingenuity and creativity, online Masses and devotions were made available throughout the country every day. Through this and other action, many vulnerable and lonely people continue to be supported in safe ways.

“While it will be wonderful when our parishes can reopen, we recognise that Parish life cannot quickly return to normal until a vaccine or a treatment is available. We do not expect this to happen until at least 2021.

“This means, that even when Churches reopen, parish activities will still be greatly restricted, our Pastoral Working Group hopes to identify and publicise advice or resources to help dioceses and parishes face fresh challenges in a safe manner.”

Bishop McGee added “Although not denying the difficulties which lie ahead, our Group had a very positive first meeting. Early figures indicate very high numbers of viewers are watching and downloading Masses and devotions online, leading us to believe that with God’s providential care, the spiritual, pastoral and catechetical work we do can actually help renew the Church in Scotland and bring growth and hope after a time of despair.”

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