18 May 2020

Cardinal John Dew welcomes review of church gathering rules

From Checkpoint, 5:45 pm on 18 May 2020

The government has signalled it will reconsider rules that cap the number of people at religious services at 10, as hundreds of mall shoppers are free to arguably worship at the altar of consumerism.

The Catholic Church is holding online services, but mass has been off for eight weeks; and may not return as parishioners know it, until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.

Last week the government changed the rules on funeral numbers, raising the limit from a maximum of 10 guests to 50.

The Catholic Archbishop of Wellington Cardinal John Dew welcomes the news that Cabinet is reviewing the rules on religious gatherings, and told Checkpoint he is hopeful change will come soon.

"While it's hard for people, and it's been hard for all of us, we've been disappointed, we're prepared to go along with it in order to keep people safe, in the hope that it will change fairly soon."

On Monday Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced that the rules limiting religious gatherings to a maximum of 10 will be specifically reviewed at next Monday's Cabinet meeting.

"We don't know what they will mean, but we know that they are thinking seriously about it…  So we're hoping that it will change."

He said when level 2 rules were announced, church leaders did express disappointment, and asked why.

"We said in a letter last week that it didn't seem to be consistent, we were hoping for a change and that is what we continue to hope for, as long as people can be safe."

Most of the priests Cardinal Dew is hearing from are saying people are happy. "There's a few people who are not, and who are emailing and saying, 'we want the churches open to get back to mass as soon as possible'. But it's a small minority. We're listening to them, and I've responded to lots of people just trying to explain," he said.

"But it is a small minority. Most people have actually appreciated the online masses, and also appreciated the opportunity themselves on a Sunday to do something a little different, to pray a little differently as a family.

"And we've encouraged people to do that, because Catholics have an obligation to attend mass on Sunday. But we've also been saying, we still want you to do something to acknowledge that Sunday is a special day.

"So many people have taken the scripture readings of the day and reflected on them as a family or as a group, which I think is a great thing because it's making an impact on people's lives, just thinking a little differently and thinking outside the square."

Will Covid-19 change the future of Catholic mass?

"When the virus first started to be felt in this part of the world, we put practices in place saying that there would be in the meantime no sharing of the chalice, with the consecrated blood.

"And also people have the option of receiving communion in their hand or on their tongue, we said no communion on the tongue... And most people have accepted that. And that may change, even though some people still don't like receiving in the hand, but the majority do by far. Some people don't like that, that may change in order to keep people safe.

"There have been so many issues facing society and facing the Church. We don't know just what's going to happen in the future."