Thursday, May 21st, 2020 – CATHNEWS (NZ)
France’s religious gathering ban must be lifted within eight days, says the French Council of State. The Council is France’s highest administrative court.
Currently, all gatherings in places of worship are banned except for funerals, which are limited to 20 people.
After receiving many complaints, the Council ruled on Monday that the ban on religious gatherings is a disproportionate response to the coronavirus (COVID-29) pandemic “…and therefore constitutes a serious and manifest violation of the freedom of worship.”
There has been a religious gathering ban in France for eight weeks, since the country’s shelter-in-place lockdowns were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Council’s decision overturns the country’s 11 May policy that banned all indoor religious gatherings except for funerals for funerals.
It remains to be seen what move the government will take to respect the decision while retaining a safe environment in churches, mosques and other places of worship.
It is not yet clear how many people will be permitted to attend Masses and other religious gatherings in France as a result of the decision.
It is also not clear whether French Catholics will return to Mass.
Although 41 percent of people in France identified as Catholic in a survey last year, fewer than five percent say they attended Sunday Mass before the pandemic struck.
Nearly 180,000 people in France have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 28,000 died from the disease. Among those, were many who became infected from a cluster in February that originated at an evangelical church. Thousands of people gathered in Mulhouse for a week of activities. More than 2,500 cases are said to have been linked to it worldwide.
Although France has one of the highest reported death rates from the virus in the world, new diagnoses and fatalities have slowed in recent weeks.
Although here in New Zealand our situation re the COVID 19 pandemic is less serious than that in Europe, we still have gatherings in our church buildings restricted to 10 people at any one time. It is hoped that, after government meetings with various religious leaders here, more people will soon be allowed to take part in worship.
Christians are not alone in their inability to worship in their religious buildings. In New Zealand, Muslims and other Faith communities are also restricted to a limit of 10 people to gather in public worship.
In the meantime, Faith Leaders are challenging the N.Z.Government’s decision to allow more people to gather in other places of public meeting – cinemas, restaurants, and bars are now open to the general public, with a more generous allowance of up to 100 at any one time to be on the premises – while maintaining the 10-person restriction on religious gatherings.
One of the arguments put forward by the N.Z. Government is that Churches are places where the people gather for purely social reasons, while other gatherings are for a more utilitarian purpose. This argument, though, seems unreasonable – certainly when one considers the object of religious gatherings is, primarily, to worship God. Of course there is also an objective of meeting together in fellowship, but then, is that really any different from the motivation of people gathering in a bar or restaurant?
Now that European Churches are being allowed to open up for larger gathering – as shown in the article here about churches in France, and in Italy – both of which countries have far more threat of infection from COVID 19 than we here in New Zealand – it is to be hoped that our own government might be persuaded that, with proper precautions, we too could open our churches up to larger congregations that currently allowed.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand