Archbishops Philip Tartaglia and Leo Cushley.
By Bill Heaney
In a strongly worded statement, Scotland’s Catholic Bishops have expressed concern at the Scottish Government’s decision to close churches, when “no evidence has been forthcoming to justify the inclusion of places of worship as sources of infection”.
The bishops suggest the move is “arbitrary and unfair” and in stark contrast to the decision by the UK Government to recognise “the essential contribution of public worship to the spiritual welfare of all citizens”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is sticking to her guns however and says that although it was a “horrible” decision to have to make it is necessary for public safety.
In contrast to the bishops, the Church of Scotland’s Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr Martin Fair, has accepted the Government decision without qualms.
Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr Martin Fair.
His words on the Church’s own Facebook page are more ameliorative than those from the bishops, who include Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, of Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire, and Archbishop Leo Cushley, of St Andrews and Edinburgh, are deeply upset.
A spokesperson for the KIrk said: “We have been here before. It is disappointing although necessary that we have had to return to closing our churches.
“However, we have the past experience of being closed which should stand us in good stead for what has come upon us now.
“Members of our congregations will have been told that although the church doors are closed the ministers have not gone away and will still be available for advice and spiritual comfort during this new lockdown.”
The bishops’ statement points out that “the stringent measures taken since last March to ensure public safety in our churches have been effective” and urges the Scottish Government “when the present measures are reviewed later in January, to reconsider these restrictions”.
Following the First Minister’s statement that all places of worship will close from Friday 8 January until Monday, February 1, the bishops have issued the following statement: “Recognising the dangers posed by the new faster-spreading variant of COVID-19, we note the Scottish Government’s decision to close all places of worship.
“The Scottish Government believes that such measures are necessary to curtail the spread of this new strain during the roll-out of the vaccine.
“We appreciate the difficult choices facing the Scottish Government at this time and we have shown ourselves ready both to cooperate with and to support its efforts in protecting the common good.
“This has included curtailing public worship in extreme circumstances and for a limited period.
“However, we are also perplexed by the decision, given that the stringent measures taken since last 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.
“Moreover, a significant number of other sectors similarly restricted last March alongside public worship – such as construction, manufacturing and elite sports – have now been left free to continue in operation.
“We also note that, in England, the essential contribution of public worship to the spiritual welfare of all citizens during this crisis has now been endorsed by the decision not to close places of worship while the Scottish Government has apparently retreated from this view, causing dismay and confusion.
“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.
“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.
“Public worship is a human right and is a duty humanity owes to God. More concretely, Catholics need the Eucharist [Communion] and the Sacramental encounter with the Lord as necessary to their spiritual well-being and their ultimate salvation.
“While we unequivocally share the common goal of protecting public health, we urge the Scottish Government, when the present measures are reviewed later in January, to reconsider these restrictions in the light of the above concerns.”