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Coronavirus: Catholic bishops to meet over reopening of churches in Northern Ireland

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Fr Paddy McCafferty hearing confessions while observing social distancing

Fr Paddy McCafferty hearing confessions while observing social distancing

Fr Paddy McCafferty hearing confessions while observing social distancing

Catholic bishops will meet this week to map out the church's plan for the safe reopening of churches for services, with some details expected to be announced today.

And the Church of Ireland said it would reveal details of its plan for worship inside its buildings soon, while the Presbyterian Church has said a task group is preparing guidelines.

The Irish Government announced on Friday services can begin again on June 29, more than two weeks earlier than previously planned under the staged re-opening.

Among the measures likely to be introduced are maintaining social distance, the required use of hand sanitisers, worshippers exiting and entering from different doors if possible, encouraging the wearing of masks, and communion delivered from behind glass.

The Catholic Church is considering only having weekday services initially and all churches likely will not host large scale gatherings in the short term.

Churches in Northern Ireland have been allowed to open for private prayer with social distancing being observed since May 20. But no date has been set for the resumption of services.

The Executive has not given any indication yet as to when church services will be allowed to restart, said Fr Edward McGee, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor.

He added that dioceses in Northern Ireland will likely work off the template being drawn up this week by the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, though taking into account any rules laid down by the Executive and health officials in Northern Ireland.

"We are preparing for the scenario... (and have) done quite a lot of work on risk assessment, social distancing," Fr McGee said.

A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church said: "Both south and north we will want of course to follow government advice and guidelines with regard to the numbers who can attend, the precautions necessary, and the exact timescale.

"In the interim a task group has been preparing detailed guidance which will issue to congregations later this month."

A Church of Ireland spokesperson said: "We plan to issue guidance on returning to in-church worship in the coming days."

At a private celebration of Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh yesterday, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said: "Some people may prefer, for a while, to continue to join us virtually from home over webcam, because of their vulnerability or because of nervousness about going out immediately into gatherings. Because of recommendations on physical distancing and hygiene, it will be necessary to reduce considerably the number of people who can gather inside church buildings at any one time."

Belfast Telegraph