Catholic Survey Shows ‘Shocking’ Impact of UK Church Closures During COVID Pandemic

The group announced the survey in October of this year.

Empty pews inside a Catholic church during the COVID pandemic.
Empty pews inside a Catholic church during the COVID pandemic. (photo: Shutterstock)

A “major” survey released this month by a British Catholic organization demonstrates what the group says were the “shocking” effects of COVID-19-related church closures in that country. 

Catholic Union, a lay organization that bills itself as “dedicated to the defense of Catholic values in Parliament and public life,” said that its survey of almost 1,000 is “the first major study of Catholic attitudes towards the closure of churches during the pandemic and the impact this had on people’s well-being.”

The group announced the survey in October of this year. The results will be submitted to the U.K. COVID-19 Inquiry, a public investigation examining the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Catholic Union Director Nigel Parker said in October that the group was “committed to making sure [churches] are never forced to close again,” with Parker urging the faithful to “take part in our survey to make sure the voices of Catholics are heard as part of this inquiry.”

In its release this month, the group revealed that more than 60% of respondents “said that their physical or mental health had been affected by church closures.”

Just a quarter of respondents, meanwhile, “thought that it was necessary to close churches and other places of worship by law at the start of the pandemic,” while just under 90% said it was “unhelpful having different legal restrictions on churches across different regions and nations of the U.K.”

The group said the survey results also demonstrated “resilience” in Mass attendance, with less than 10% of respondents saying they attend Mass less frequently or not at all since the start of the COVID pandemic. 

Catholic Union said it would use the results of the study as part of its contribution to the COVID-19 Inquiry, which is currently gathering evidence from “senior politicians and advisers.”

Sheila Hollins, the president of the union, said in the release that the results were “distressing.”

“They confirm that the lockdown of churches was not only hugely unpopular but had a real impact on people’s well-being,” she said. “The increase in the number of people feeling lonely or depressed as a direct consequence of the closures is particularly shocking.”

“It is vital that the COVID Inquiry properly considers the decisions to close and reopen churches during the pandemic,” she added.

Like most countries around the world, the U.K. in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered much of public life, including churches and places of worship. 

By late 2020, Catholic bishops in the U.K. were publicly pushing back against new COVID restrictions on churches. A broader coalition of Christian advocates also argued against new closures at the time.

In the U.S., which also saw widespread church shutdowns, many state legislators over the past few years have passed laws to protect houses of worship from state-mandated church closures in the event of a public health emergency. A majority of states now offer varying levels of protections.

A Gallup poll released earlier this year, meanwhile, showed that fewer Americans are going to church than they did before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

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