36 Conservative MPs have signed a letter to Church of England bishops asking that clergy be allowed back in their churches to conduct funerals. They say the church should consider the pain and anguish of families unable to hold a funeral and they are concerned that the wishes of the deceased and bereaved are not being fulfilled. The church advised in March that funerals were only permitted at the graveside or in the crematorium, but the letter says government guidance is clear that services can take place with proper measures in place. The Church of England says the advice was given to ensure safety and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Church of England bishops meet on Tuesday (5th May) to consider the ban on allowing clergy to enter their churches during the coronavirus pandemic, a decision that has caused dispute. Now, 650 Church of England clergy and laity have written an open letter appealing for the ruling to be reversed. The signatories include Rev Lucy Winkett, St James Piccadilly and Rev Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford. They say the decision is a failure of the church’s responsibility to the nation and they fear that this marks a decisive point of the church retreating to the private realm, a view earlier expressed by the retired Bishop of Worcester, Peter Selby. Rev Marcus Walker (pictured), in a lone protest, flouted the rule to lead one service at his church, St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, in April.
In contrast, Roman Catholic priests in England and Wales are allowed to say mass in their churches, but without congregations. In a statement Catholic bishops said live streamed mass and other devotions are second best to worshipping in church and they are involved in discussions with the government to establish a pathway to re-open churches, giving access to the sacraments. Meanwhile inventive ways have been found to offer confessions, in conversation over church gates or in car parks.
The French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said France might allow religious services to resume before the end of May if a gradual easing of lockdown rules from May 11 did not lead to an increase in the rate of coronavirus infections. Reuters reports that the government indicated religious ceremonies would be banned until June 2 at the earliest, but the Prime Minister told the Senate this might be brought forward by four days.
Temporary mortuaries have been established in mosques throughout the UK. Sky News reported that a refrigerated container had been placed in a mosque car park in Birmingham, where a team has been assembled to collect bodies from homes and care homes and prepare them for burial in the dry cleansing ‘tayammum’ ritual. They deal with five bodies a day and 25 funerals are taking place each week. The East London mosque has transformed a vehicle storage area into a mortuary with a refrigerated area. More people have been taken on to help with the handling of bodies and burials. The mosque says the death toll has declined from a peak of 20 funerals a day.
Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned suddenly in 2013, has told a biographer of the threat to the church of a “worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies.” In ‘Benedict XVI Last Testament’, by Peter Seewald, the former Pope, who is 93, said “A hundred years ago, everyone would have thought it absurd to speak of homosexual marriage. Today whoever opposes it is socially excommunicated. The same applies to abortion and the production of human beings in the laboratory. Modern society is in the process of formulating an ‘anti-Christian creed,’ and resisting it is punishable by social excommunication.” The biography is available only in German and has been seen by the Catholic News Agency. An English translation will be published in the autumn.
In America, a senior military chaplain Col. Moon H. Kim, who shared a book suggesting that coronavirus was a judgment from God because of sin, as an example homosexual intercourse, is facing calls to be disciplined. The book is by Pastor John Piper, known for his ultra conservative views. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, representing chaplains who complained, said sending round an email about the book was deplorable.
A poll from the PRRI polling agency shows President Trump’s approval rating has fallen by 11 points among white evangelicals (now standing at 66%) and by 12 points for white Catholics (now at 48%). Among non-white Protestants, President Trump’s ratings have not changed.