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Catholic Church draws up plans for phased reopening of Scottish parishes

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The Catholic Church in Scotland is to approach the Scottish Government with plans for the phased reopening of parishes, according to a senior bishop.

It will establish a working group of outside advisers to draw up a strategy that would allow buildings to open again and Masses to return.

The strategy will include social distancing, with the possible removal of pews and the suspension of the Sign of Peace, use of Holy Water at the back of churches and temporary discontinued use of hymn books and news bulletins.

Some of these measures were already in place ahead of lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic grew in Scotland.

Bishop John Keenan, of Paisley Diocese, said the Church has been in discussions with the Scottish Government over issues such as funerals, which have been restricted to immediate family of the deceased.

An independent group will now be formed to draw up a strategy but Bishop Keenan said some changes to normal practice will be needed.

“We are not going to ask for our churches to be open when we don’t think it is safe,” he told the PA news agency.

“One priest in a big church looked at social distancing – he had a church of 500 and he said that the maximum you could get in was 60, maybe two to a bench for instance.”

He said parishes have been hit financially by the closures.

“Our diocese, we are OK for the first part of the year but the longer it goes on the tougher it will get,” he said.

“Most Catholics still want to give money to the Church on a weekly basis if we would give them means to do so.

“Some have been furloughed or lost jobs so they might not be able to but a lot have been contacting their parish priest to ask how to donate.

“I think ultimately we will be fine because if we put in place natural and easy means where people can donate they will do so.”

Other plans include giving those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic an opportunity to say goodbye, as they may have been restricted from being present in the hospital or at the funeral.

Bishop Keenan said: “Every priest I would say has buried someone with Covid.

“We are conscious that once the lockdown is over we’ll need to provide means for the family to grieve.”

In a message to parishioners, Archbishop Leo Cushley, of St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese, said: “We’re doing what we can as bishops to speak to the Government and the authorities so that we are exploring how to move forward, what the next steps will be and how to open our churches as soon as we possibly can do so, doing it safely and doing it well.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are in regular contact with all of Scotland’s faith leaders and communities in order to understand their concerns and needs during this time, however, current guidance remains to stay at home and only travel where it is essential so there are currently no plans to reopen places of worship.

“We will engage in further discussion before communities might safely begin to consider reopening places of worship for services at the time it is safe to do so.”