French bishops have expressed their frustration after being told they are prohibited from holding in-person services until at least 2nd June.
At the end of last month, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that a gradual easing of restrictions would begin on 11th May, with pre-school and primary school classes resuming on a voluntary basis and with classes restricted to 15 pupils. Churches, however, will have to wait almost a month longer to resume operations.
In response, the bishops’ conference said it regretted "this date which has been imposed on Catholics and all religions in our country" and insisted that —with the correct safety measures in place — Mass would not spark a further spread of the coronavirus.
Churches had hoped to reopen on 31st May in time to celebrate Pentecost. Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, head of the bishops’ conference, said that while bishops would respect the government's decision, he was "not very happy" that their proposal for an earlier opening time had been "simply brushed aside."
He added: "Sacramental and liturgical life is not a leisure activity that can be done without easily. We are ready to adapt...it's less complicated to organise than in public transport."
Moulins-Beaufort stopped short of saying that the church was being subject to religious discrimination, urging that this was "not very respectful of people really persecuted, imprisoned and tortured."
Others were more openly irritated by the decision.
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit told The Tablet: "Honestly, we are extremely disappointed. They don't trust us. Why can markets, little museums and multimedia libraries open up and churches can't? That doesn't make sense."
Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun went even further, arguing that freedom of worship had been demoted "to the last wheel of the carriage of the French nation."
Similarly, Bishop Matthieu Rougé from Nanterre insisted that there was "an anticlerical bias in general, maybe anti-Catholic in particular" present in the Government's decision making.
France has recorded over 170,000 confirmed cases of covid-19, with more than 25,000 deaths.