The Scottish Catholic bishops have protested the closing of churches as part of Scotland's newest coronavirus lockdown.

Scotland's government announced the latest closure Jan. 4. The month-long lockdown will close churches to public Mass from Jan. 8 to Feb. 1. Funerals and marriages can take place with a limited number of attendees.

England's government also instituted a new national lockdown this week, but churches will be allowed to remain open and residents can attend public Masses.

The Scottish bishops said in a statement Jan. 5 that they are "perplexed by the decision" to close Scotland's churches, given that other sectors closed during the March lockdown, such as "construction, manufacturing and elite sports -- have now been left free to continue in operation."

They also pointed to the UK government's decision not to restrict public worship in England, in recognition of "the essential contribution of public worship to the spiritual welfare of all citizens."

The bishops said the ban on public religious services seems "arbitrary and unfair" to Catholics, given the evidence that public safety measures in churches have been effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus infections. They urged the Scottish government to reconsider the restriction.

"We wish to emphasise again the spiritual, social and psychological benefits provided by continuing public worship, and we ask for these to be taken into full account in future decisions," they stated.

"Public worship is a human right and is a duty humanity owes to God," the bishops' conference continued. "More concretely, Catholics need the Eucharist and the Sacramental encounter with the Lord as necessary to their spiritual wellbeing and their ultimate salvation."

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said Monday that public worship is vital for "personal resilience" as the government announced a new lockdown in England.

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In a statement released Jan. 4, the archbishop of Westminster welcomed the news that Catholics in England could continue to attend public Masses amid the strict new measures.

"The regular practice of our faith in God is a well-established source of both personal resilience and dedicated service to those in need. Such resilience and enduring service are vital in these difficult circumstances," said Nichols, who is president of the bishops' conference of England and Wales.

"I am glad that no measures have been introduced that would obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good. Catholic parishes will continue to serve the needs of their local community."

"In one parish, for example, the provision of food for the needy has increased by 400% since March last year."

New lockdown restrictions came into force in England on Jan. 5 following an address to the nation by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night.

Johnson explained that he took the step because hospitals were under greater pressure from the coronavirus than at any time since the outbreak of the pandemic in England.

The number of COVID patients in hospitals has risen by nearly a third in the past week, while the number of deaths has increased by 20%, he said.

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Under the new rules, residents in England can leave home "to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship."