The ban on acts of public worship in England amid the country’s winter lockdown shows the Government’s “misunderstanding of the importance of religious faith”, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said.
Speaking on this morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Cardinal Nichols, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, also pointed out that the ban on public worship is not supported by any scientific evidence and said he hopes the ban will be lifted soon.
“I think it will be changed and I think the evidence that we’ve seen over the last couple of days that this particular aspect of the decision of the Government is not supported by any scientific evidence and really shows a misunderstanding of the importance of religious faith,” he said. “I think those things will lead to change…I hope to see places of worship open again.”
When asked why public worship and places of worship should be made an exception over other venues, the cardinal pointed out that they are “among the safest places” people can go.
“All I can do is argue the case for places of worship and what we’ve learned since June is that they are very well managed, they very well cleansed and they are among the safest places that people go to. Anybody coming into a church certainly is stewarded, they are told where to sit, they are told when to move, that’s not true in most places with social gatherings.”
Cardinal Nichols also stressed that the point being made is also that going to church is not a social gathering, it is a “very significant, fundamental part of people’s lives”.
While public worship has been banned, places of worship are allowed to remain open for private prayer, service broadcasting and funerals.
“I’m glad churches remain open, we will use them to the maximum effect that we can because from them spring great assistance to those in need,” said Cardinal Nichols.
Speaking of one particular case showing just how important a church can be in assisting its local community, the cardinal said: “One parish near here since March, it’s use of people using its food bank and food vouchers has gone up 400 per cent. Now we’re not going back, we’re going to sustain that and hope to move forward.
“I think there’s a whole thing about this moment, we’re too much looking to go back to what it was, we have to look forward to something new, something different and I think the practise of faith and its outflow has a great contribution to make in the future and that’s what we must not go back on at this difficult moment.”
Cardinal Nichols acknowledged the change in mood from the first lockdown in March, with people now speaking out in against the new restrictions.
“That’s why I’ve said that as Catholics, certainly, we will go along with these restrictions, we want to act in solidarity to many, many people who are finding this very difficult. So we want to have that solidarity and we want to demonstrate, give an example of good social cohesion and service.
“I’ve said to people the pathway I want you to follow is a pathway of constant prayer and of constant service and it’s lovely that all the Christian churches are asking their members to pray every evening at 6pm that we hold together as a nation, that the best of us comes out, not the worst.”
Cardinal Nichols added: “We should remember each other and we should really remember the intention of these regulations. Their impact are uneven and maybe we consider them to be unfair but the intention is to protect life and that’s a very, very important fundamental religious value as well as a human value. So we need to keep that to the fore and be patient and be resilient and be compassionate onto another.”
Concluding the interview, the cardinal admitted that he felt this Christmas would not be normal.
“I do hope most sincerely that there’ll be space enough for us to celebrate as families and for us to celebrate as Christian communities,” he added. “I think that really is important and I hope that the effort that’s made over these next weeks opens up that doorway for us all.”
Picture: Cardinal Vincent Nichols. (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk).