Bishops urged to relax coronavirus lockdown rules for funerals

The plea comes following the closure of all places of worship in March when the Government ordered the coronavirus lockdown, with funerals only permitted to take place at the graveside or crematorium with a limited number of people present.

A virtual meeting of the House of Bishops, at which the letter will be discussed, is due to take place later on Tuesday.

It is understood the letter was only seen late on Monday, and the agenda for the meeting – which will review all aspects of the church’s guidance – has been in place for days. 

Any decisions coming from the meeting will be made public, but it is likely that the points raised in the MPs’ letter will fit into wider ongoing discussions about policy and what the lifting of restrictions will look like.

However, the bishops have not committed to any update on Tuesday, because this could depend on the changing nature of Government guidance.

The Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church of England’s adviser on healthcare policy, said: “The death of a loved one is painful under any circumstances, and the current situation has made this all the more difficult for those who have been bereaved.

“The House of Bishops has been meeting frequently, and advice is reviewed regularly and updated as circumstances allow.

“The Church of England has consistently stated that it will always ensure that, where requested, a priest is present to conduct a funeral service, either at a crematorium or at the churchyard. Any suggestion that the Church of England is responsible for direct cremation could not be further from the truth – that is against both Government guidance and the church’s commitment to provide pastoral care for all.

“The advice not to conduct funeral services in church buildings – and it is advice, not instruction – was given because of concerns about parishes having capacity to conduct funerals safely, including being able to deep-clean church buildings between services.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Philip Egan, tweeted that he and the Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Rev Christopher Foster, had written to the Government asking for churches to be among the first things to reopen. The tweet has since been deleted. 

The Church of England and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have been contacted for comment.

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