A four-stage plan for the gradual reopening of Catholic churches in NSW has been sent to the state Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
In the letter, Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, supported by 18 bishops, says that “social distancing and other restrictions have taken a significant psychological and spiritual toll on people.”
“We are determined to abide by government directives regarding numbers, distancing and hygiene.” – Anthony Fisher
Although Vatican News incorrectly titles Berejiklian as “the country’s premier,” it reveals how the NSW Catholic leadership believes it would be of “significant benefit to many in the community” if some church-related activities were reintroduced.
“Reopening churches, at first only for private prayer and confessions and with strict protocols in place, would be a significant benefit to many in the community, offering solace to the faithful and hope to the anxious.”
The four stages proposed are:
1. Overseeing the use of hand sanitisers and physical distancing.
2. Holding masses and services, attended by a limited number, in outdoor spaces (perhaps similar to some outdoor church services in the US). No physical contact – such as through the passing of hymn books or collection plates – but Holy Communion would be “given and received safely.”
3. Moving masses and services indoors.
4. A “new normal” shaped by learnings from coranavirus period.
In an Easter letter to those in the Catholic Archdiocese (region) of Sydney, Archbishop Fisher wrote of how he was “encouraged to hear that restrictions might be relaxed soon” and confirmed he had contacted Premier Berejiklian.
“On behalf of the Bishops of New South Wales, the clergy and the lay faithful, I’ve written to the Premier pressing the case for the reopening of churches, initially for private prayer and confession,” wrote Fisher.
“It’s likely that such a ‘soft opening’ will happen before we can resume public Masses. And whether it’s for prayers or Mass, we are determined to abide by government directives regarding numbers, density (or distancing) and hygiene. Over these weeks we’ve demonstrated an admirable ability to adapt as necessary!”
According to Vatican News, the appeal to Premier Berejiklian also included the request to allow ministers and up to ten people to attend baptisms and weddings, as well as an increase in numbers allowed to attend funerals.