18 May 2020 Statement from Bishop Noel Treanor on the Reopening of Churches for Private Prayer
Last week, the NI Executive
outlined a five-step recovery plan with the gradual and phased easing of
restrictions that had been placed upon movement and public gatherings in
response to Covid-19. This phased recovery plan is welcomed by all as a sign of
hope and progression in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The tentative steps outlined by the
NI Executive in this recovery plan have been possible only through the ongoing
heroic and professional efforts of healthcare workers to safeguard public
health and save lives. Once again, we are indebted and pay tribute to all those
who are keeping our families and friends safe. Steps towards the easing of
restrictions have only been possible because, as a society, we have taken the
appropriate measures and carried the cross of isolation in the interests of the
common good and public safety.
For the continuing good of all we
must remain clear sighted and vigilant: the real and present threat of
coronavirus remains, particularly for many vulnerable family and friends. The
cautious steps towards recovery are steps towards a ‘new normality’. The
pandemic has not passed. We need to be vigilant and maintain good hygienic
practices and safely exercise personal maturity and responsibility as our
freedoms of movement and social interaction return. It is necessary and
incumbent upon all of us to maintain the social distancing measures that have
allowed us to keep the infection rate down. In protecting those around us, we
protect ourselves and those we love.
As part of step 1 of the recovery
plan, the NI Executive have indicated today that some churches and places of
worship may choose to open for the singular purpose of private individual
prayer. As a Diocese, we warmly welcome this decision and I know it will bring
tremendous consolation to all people of faith throughout the North of Ireland.
Over the past few weeks, parishioners and clergy have voiced to me the
sacrifice of not being able to gather within the sanctuary of the Church to
offer personal prayer. It has been particularly difficult for families who
continue to grieve the loss of loved ones. They desire to gain consolation in
offering prayer to God as they remember their loved one before the altar of
To facilitate the opening of
churches for private prayer, churches within the Diocese of Down and Connor,
following a full risk assessment, will reopen for private prayer according to
the capacity of each parish to do so safely and in accordance with public
health guidance and best practice.
The Diocese takes seriously its
duty of care towards parishioners, employees and clergy. It has therefore
issued specific guidance to parishes of the measures required to be put in
place before any church may be opened. Each Church will open only when it is
safe to do so and this may vary from place to place. The support and patience
of parishioners while these measures are put in place is greatly appreciated.
All visitors to churches must
strictly observe the social distancing regulations and good hygienic practices
outlined at Church entrances. In the exercise of personal responsibility,
anyone who is unwell or exhibits symptoms of Covid-19 should stay remain at
home. Those who are at increased risk from the virus, and/or have been advised
to shield themselves, should also remain at home. There is no obligation to
visit Church and Mass will continue to be streamed privately via social media
without a congregation present.
In the interest of public health
and safety, during this first phase of reopening of churches, visits are for
individual, personal prayer and private devotions only. Organised gatherings
for prayer or devotions are not permitted at this stage and the public
celebration of Mass and the other sacraments remain suspended.
These directives will be kept under