Peruvian bishops ask for loosening of church restrictions

Chapel pews Credit Elena Dijour Shutterstock CNA Elena Dijour/Shutterstock.

The Peruvian Bishops’ Conference has asked President Francisco Sagasti to correct “excessive limitations” on church attendance put in place by the Ministry of Health to deal with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

“We are writing to you…to request your intervention in order to correct the criteria established for permitted church attendance for the faithful in the protocols that have been given to the provinces and regions of the country due to the pandemic,” the March 17 letter states.

Due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the overwhelmed healthcare system, President Sagasti has announced classifications of the country’s regions into three levels, according to the severity of the pandemic: High, Very High and Extreme.

In the Extreme category, churches and places of worship may not open. However, stores and shopping centers are permitted to be open at 20% capacity, and restaurants with indoor ventilation may open at 30% capacity.

At the Very High level, churches and places of worship can open at 20% capacity, while stores can open at 30% and restaurants can open at 30% capacity indoors and 40% outdoors.

At the High level, churches can reach 30% of their capacity, while stores generally can reach 40%.

The bishops said that while they understand the need for public health measures, churches are being treated unfairly, in violation of religious freedom protections in Peruvian law.

They proposed that churches be permitted to maintain the same capacity as stores and shopping centers at each level of the classification system.

The bishops said that the safety protocols they implemented last year, coordinated with the Ministry of Health, have been effective, and “no infections were recorded due to participation in these religious activities.”

Since these measures have proven effective at conducting worship services safely, the Peruvian bishops said, “we consider the limitations on church attendance established in the categories that the Ministry of Health has designed to control this pandemic to be excessive.”

They noted that people largely remain in one spot at Mass, making it easier to maintain distance than in shopping centers, rec centers, and other places.

For the bishops, “there is no justification to keep the churches closed if the supermarkets are kept open,” as well as other commercial establishments, “where many people congregate and there is a high level of foot traffic.”

The conference expressed its concern that during Holy Week, “many faithful would be restricted from freely expressing their faith, despite being willing to comply with all duly established health protocols.”

They asked the president to intervene in time to allow for safe gatherings during Holy Week.


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