The French bishops’ appeal to continue public Masses during France’s national lockdown was rejected Saturday by the Council of State.
“The bishops deplore above all that the faithful will thus remain unable to participate in Mass, the summit of their faith and an irreplaceable encounter with God and with their brothers,” the French bishops’ conference said in a statement issued in response to the decision Nov. 7.
As France entered into its second lockdown of this year in November, the French bishops’ conference filed a “référé liberté” with the Council of State arguing that the most recent coronavirus restrictions “violate freedom of worship.”
A “référé liberté” is an urgent administrative procedure that is filed as a petition to a judge for the protection of fundamental rights, in this case, the right to freedom of worship.
The statement from the French bishops Nov. 7 announced that the judge's dismissal of their appeal was “based solely on health grounds.”
It said that Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the president of the French bishops’ conference, and the French bishops will “remain vigilant in the face of any limitation on freedom of worship at a time when, for security reasons, the public authorities want to strengthen their surveillance of all religions.”
The Council of State decision to reject the bishops’ appeal came on the same day as France’s national memorial for the three Catholics killed in a terrorist attack at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice. Prime Minister Jean Castex paid tribute to the victims of the Oct. 29 attack at the outdoor memorial with the victims' families.
"Physical participation in community prayer and assistance in worship are major elements of comfort and moral strength, particularly in this period when the confrontation with disease and death is stronger and when the Catholic community is the victim of acts of terrorism," the Confédération nationale des associations familiales catholiques (AFC) wrote in a statement Nov. 2.
Under France’s second lockdown, which will continue until at least Dec. 1, people are not allowed to go 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) beyond their homes, except for essential work or medical reasons. All non-essential businesses, including restaurants, are closed, but schools remain open.
All public religious gatherings throughout the country, including public Masses, have been suspended until at least Dec. 1.
Places of worship may remain open for weddings, with a maximum of six people, and funerals, with a maximum of 30 people.
In response to the bishops' appeal, the judge specified Nov. 7 that churches will remain open and that Catholics can go to a church near their homes regardless of distance if they carry the necessary paperwork. Priests will also be allowed to visit people in their homes and chaplains to visit hospitals.
Europe is currently experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases, which has led Ireland and England to impose a lockdowns, Italy and Spain to implement regional restrictions and curfews, and Germany to close all bars and restaurants for one month.
There have been more than 1.7 million coronavirus cases in France this year which has led to the deaths of 40,220 people, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.
French health authorities reported that 25,143 people were currently hospitalized with the coronavirus on Nov. 2.
The summary judge noted that the current rules in France will be the subject of review by Nov. 16 to evaluate their appropriate and proportionate nature. This "presupposes the early initiation of a consultation process with all the representatives of religions, intended to specify the conditions under which these restrictions could evolve,” he said.
The French bishops’ conference said that it “impatiently awaits” this announced consultation.