Catholic leader Cardinal Nichols: No evidence for ban on religious services

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The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has said the ban on religious services during lockdown is “not supported” by scientific evidence, and has predicted a U-turn.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said the decision “clearly shows a misunderstanding of the importance of religious faith” and called churches “among the safest places” people can visit.

England on Thursday woke up to a month-long lockdown which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has argued is needed to tackle the rising level of coronavirus infections.

Unlike during the first wave of the virus in the spring, the Government has permitted churches and other religious places of worship to remain open but only for private prayer, with services put on hold for four weeks.

Downing Street has so far proved reluctant to change its mind but Cardinal Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in the country, said he believes a review will be forthcoming.

The Archbishop of Westminster told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it will be changed.

“I think the evidence we’ve seen over the last couple of days is that this particular aspect of the decision by the Government is not supported by any scientific evidence and clearly shows a misunderstanding of the importance of religious faith.

“I think those things will lead to change. As soon as possible, I hope to see places of worship opened again (for services).”

He said churches are “well-managed, very well cleansed and among the safest places people go to”, adding: “Going to church is not a social gathering, it is a very significant, fundamental part of people’s lives.”

The ban comes less than two months after Mr Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds had their son Wilfred baptised at Westminster Cathedral on September 12 – only two days before the Rule of Six restriction was introduced – in front of a small gathering, according to reports.

But Number 10 said there was “no change” planned for the lockdown regulations relating to religious services.

Johnson services
Boris Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds had their son Wilfred baptised in Westminster Cathedral in September – two days before the Rule of Six was imposed (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/PA)

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “There is no change to the regulations.

“I think the Health Secretary reflected that we are continuing to work closely with senior faith leaders and the places of worship taskforce, as we have done throughout the pandemic.

“We know places of worship bring huge comfort and solace to people, especially during this challenging time, and that is why they are remaining open during this period of new restrictions for private prayer and funerals.”

Downing Street has previously said “it wasn’t possible to go any further than” allowing private prayer as there was a risk large gatherings inside places of worship could increase the spread of the deadly virus.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman has indicated that the evidence for the decision to halt religious services will not be published.

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