No pews, holy water or hymn books in Catholic church post-lockdown plan

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image captionPews could be removed and capacity limited to allow social distancing in churches

The Catholic Church is preparing plans for a phased reopening of parishes.

A senior bishop has suggested social-distancing measures which could be implemented to allow church buildings to reopen if lockdown is relaxed.

The strategy could include the removal of pews and the suspension of the sign of peace, the use of holy water at the back of churches and the use of hymn books and news bulletins.

The Church will approach the Scottish government with its proposals.

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

Some of the suggested 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.

'Parishes hit financially'

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 said.

"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."

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image captionThe use of shared hymn books would be suspended under post-lockdown rules

He also 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."

'Exploring how to move forward'

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."

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