LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Scotland’s bishops are calling on the government to allow more worshippers to attend services when churches are allowed to reopen at the beginning of April.

Scotland closed houses of worship for communal activities during the first week of January in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – except for funerals and weddings – even though they were allowed to remain open in England.

On Feb. 23, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish government would allow communal worship to restart April 5, although she said it might begin earlier so worshippers would be able to attend Easter and Passover services.

In a March 1 statement, the bishops said they welcomed the announcement and the “recognition of the status of public worship implicit in this decision.”

However, they objected to the arbitrary limit of 20 worshippers at each service.

“[We] anticipate ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government regarding the requirement of a numerical ‘cap’ on the number of worshippers. As we continue to observe social distancing and the protocols on infection control and hygiene formulated by the Bishops’ Conference working group under the leadership of the former Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, we maintain that it would be more appropriate for each church building to accommodate a congregation in proportion to its size rather than on the basis of an imposed number,” the bishops said.

They then quoted Pope Francis’s Feb. 8 words on the subject: “Even as we seek ways to protect human lives from the spread of the virus, we cannot view the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person as less important than physical health.”

Over 1.6 million of Scotland’s 5.5 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world, but the government says it is being cautious, especially given the rise of new variants of the coronavirus that might be resistant to the vaccine.

“The success of our vaccine program means that after 12 long months, an end to the pandemic may now be in sight,” Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said on Monday. “But for the moment … we do still need to be careful. And we do still need to stick to the current rules and guidance.”

In their statement, the bishops acknowledged the need to continue to observe safety regulations.

“The Catholic community recognizes the seriousness of the pandemic and is committed to working with others to avoid the spreading of infection,” the bishops said.

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