How British church buildings might begin easing the blockade

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For the past five Sundays, lay Catholics in Britain have been prohibited from attending the Mass. For the most part, we accepted the situation with disappointment but quiet resignation and understood that protecting these workers at the front and their workers must be a top priority for vulnerable patients.

Now there are signs that the worst is over. As you can see in the graphic below, England passed the peak of deaths on April 8th. This means that the infections have probably peaked two to three weeks earlier. It is therefore correct that consideration is now being given to when and how the blocking restrictions can be relaxed.

Data source: NHS England www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/covid-19-daily-deaths/

I am an economist, so you might think I would be particularly concerned about the financial impact of the ban. It is true that the economic costs related to bankruptcies, unemployment and public borrowing will be enormous. This in turn has a serious impact on the affordability of public spending on health and public services for the coming years. Equally important, however, is the burden of restrictions on our personal freedoms and everyday activities: sitting at your dying aunt's bed, volunteering in a local charity shop, visiting your grandparents, taking kids to Friday night cricket training, and a hundred and other activities that take place in the Have remained in limbo. For Catholics, of course, it is at the top of the list not to be able to attend Mass or receive the sacraments.

The costs of these abandoned activities are difficult to measure, but they are certainly enormous. Most of us are willing to accept the situation for a limited time to save lives, but we should not forget the unprecedented nature of such restrictions and they should not be considered a day longer than absolutely necessary.

How should our exit from the block apply to the Church? Concerns about a second wave of infections and deaths mean that changes need to be implemented gradually, but there are things that could and should be done almost immediately.

There is a strong case for immediately opening churches back to personal prayer. As long as obvious safety precautions such as hand disinfectants and the limitation of the number of people are taken at the same time, such a measure carries a minimal risk. In fact, Bishop Egan of Portsmouth posted a tweet on Sunday about how uncomfortable he was with this measure.

This Sunday of God's Mercy I am again amazed at the closure of our churches for private prayer. I know that this is an emergency and therefore temporary measures are required. But do we reverse the hierarchy of values ​​and put physical health above mental health? Let us pray that we can open again soon. pic.twitter.com/ijmLBZNYRK

– Bishop Philip Egan (@BishopEgan) April 19, 2020

It is hard to exaggerate the fear that lack of access to confession can cause. Likewise, it is much more than an inconvenience to not be able to baptize or marry children. Restoring access to all three sacraments should be next on the list. Finally, we should plan how we can allow people to attend the fair again in due course, if only to a limited extent.

My plea for our bishops is to be resourceful and generous in this process, both in terms of the government's push for change and the guidance they give to priests.

For example, we should think about the possibility of open-air confessions and services. Some communities in the United States have transit denominations – why not in the UK too? It may be inconvenient to hold Mass in a church parking lot (ours are usually smaller than those in the United States), but there are many Catholic schools with large enough grounds to allow for outdoor masses with a high degree of social distance .

The government may ease the ban in a few weeks while maintaining some social distancing requirements. If so, we try to be flexible: if we insist on social distance, a maximum of 20 people can live in a small church, but 100 or more people can work in a large cathedral. It could also be considered whether our Sunday commitment can be temporarily transferred to any day of the week so that attendance is spread across multiple trade shows.

Finally, a gradual end to closure in early summer could offer wonderful opportunities for outdoor processions in May in honor of Our Lady and then Corpus Christi processions in June. A side effect of the two-meter rule could be that the length of such processions becomes seriously impressive; In any case, we should be brave to announce our trust in the public again.

The Pope has rightly expressed concern about an online church without human interaction and the sacraments. Let us do everything we can to reopen our churches and offer the sacraments to people as soon as this is certain.

David Paton is a professor of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School and a visiting professor at St. Mary & # 39; s University in Twickenham. He tweets @cricketwyvern

Photo: Mazur / catholicnews.org.uk

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