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'Don't ignore impact of pandemic church closures' Catholic Union tells Covid-19 Inquiry

by Donna Birrell

The Catholic Union has called on the UK Covid-19 Inquiry not to overlook the impact of the pandemic on people of faith, especially around the closure of places of worship.

The intervention comes on the fourth anniversary of the first UK-wide lockdown at the start of the pandemic in which places of worship across the country were forced to close.

In a letter to the Inquiry Chair Baroness Hallett, the Catholic Union has called for church closures to be “properly considered” and it has offered to give evidence as part of the public hearings. It has also shared with Baroness Hallett the results of its survey last year which found that 91 per cent of responders thought that places of worship should be classed as “essential services” in any future pandemic and never again be forced to close. Sixty-one per cent of people also said that their physical or mental health had suffered as a result of churches being closed.

In its letter to Baroness Hallett, the Catholic Union states that “While many people endured hardships during the pandemic, there was a deep sense that decision makers did not fully understand the importance of churches to people of faith and were too slow in allowing them to reopen.”

President of the Catholic Union, Baroness Hollins said: “It is vital that the Covid Inquiry properly considers the decisions to close and reopen churches during the pandemic. There is a very strong sense that faith and faith communities were pushed to one side when decisions were made, and this needs to be addressed in the learning from the Inquiry. It’s clear from the results of the Catholic Union’s survey that places of worship should never be forced to close again.”

Catholic Union Director, Nigel Parker added: “Many of us have memories from Easter 2020 when we watched services on our laptops and phones. Thankfully those days seem like a distant memory, and we will gather in churches again this year to celebrate this great feast. But our response to the pandemic is something that needs careful scrutiny, especially to learn lessons from the future. With so many groups and individuals having their say as part of the Covid Inquiry, it is only right that the voices of Catholics are also heard.”

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry was set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and learn lessons for the future. It began in June 2022 with public hearings expected to last into 2026. After that, the Inquiry will make a report and recommendations to the Government.

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