Coronavirus: MPs urge churches to allow small funerals

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A funeral with a coffinImage source, Getty Images

A group of Tory MPs are calling on the Church of England to ease restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak to allow small-scale funerals in churches.

A letter signed by 36 MPs suggests clergy be allowed to enter their churches to officiate at funerals while observing safety measures.

Churches closed in March, with funerals only permitted to take place at the graveside or the crematorium.

The Church of England said its advice came after safety concerns.

The prime minister's spokesman said the issue was "ultimately a matter for the Church of England" but added that the guidance was "clear that funerals are able to go ahead in places of worship and crematoria where it is possible to do so".

He said funerals should take place in line with social distancing guidelines.

In a letter addressed to the Lord Archbishops and Diocesan Bishops of the Church of England, the MPs say they are concerned "that the wishes of the deceased and bereaved are not being fulfilled with a proper committal in the church of their wish".

Conservative MP for West Dorset Chris Loder is the lead signatory on the letter which has also been signed by ex-cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Theresa Villiers.

It says the government guidance on funerals "is clear" and that services can take place with "proper measures in place".

"It is now a matter for you to decide, and is within your ability, to enable small-scale funerals within the Church of England to now take place."

The MPs say the Church should "consider, most intently, the pain and anguish of those families unable to have a funeral", asking for their compassion "to shine through in your considerations and deliberations today".

"Therefore, we write to ask that you give permission, in line with the law and government guidance, for clergy to enter their church and to officiate at funerals within the church building, while observing necessary safety measures."

On its website, the Church of England says funerals can only happen at a crematorium or at the graveside and only immediate family members can attend.

Following a meeting on Wednesday, the House of Bishops agreed a three stage plan to gradually re-open church buildings "in time and in parallel with the government's approach".

This three stage process would start with allowing services to be streamed from church, followed by widening access for some rites and ceremonies - and finally opening up churches for services with limited congregations.

Advice 'reviewed regularly'

Responding to the letter, the Reverend Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church of England's adviser on healthcare policy, said: "The death of a loved one is painful under any circumstances and the current situation has made this all the more difficult for those who have been bereaved.

"The House of Bishops has been meeting frequently and advice is reviewed regularly and updated as circumstances allow.

"The Church of England has consistently stated that it will always ensure that, where requested, a priest is present to conduct a funeral service, either at a crematorium or at the churchyard.

"Any suggestion that the Church of England is responsible for 'direct cremation' could not be further from the truth - that is against both Government guidance and the Church's commitment to provide pastoral care for all.

"The advice not to conduct funeral services in church buildings - and it is advice, not instruction - was given because of concerns about parishes having capacity to conduct funerals safely, including being able to deep-clean church buildings between services."