As part of France’s second lockdown, all public religious gatherings across the country, including public masses, have been suspended until at least December 1. All non-essential businesses, including restaurants, are closed, but schools remain open.
A judicial appeal by the French Episcopal Conference was rejected by the Council of State on November 7. The bishops had argued that the ban on public masses violates the freedom of worship.
At outdoor gatherings, Catholics sang hymns and prayed the rosary under police surveillance.
Catholic protesters can be seen in photos carrying signs saying “We want Mass” and “God the King”.
In Nantes, nearly 300 people stood in the rain in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 15 and chanted: “Give us back mass”.
“Normally we should be at mass this Sunday morning. But we don’t have the right. We are deprived of this right for the second time in a row, ”Marc Billig, one of the organizers of the Nantes event, told local media.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would meet with religious representatives on November 16 after the French bishops proposed the resumption of masses with attendance limited to 30% of the capacity of each church building . French daily Le Monde reported on November 16 that the current restrictions are not expected to be lifted until early December at the earliest.
In some dioceses, bishops have urged Catholics not to gather outside to protest in light of the coronavirus lockdown.
“Let us be patient”, declared Mgr Michel Dubost, apostolic administrator of Lyon on November 13th.
“Let us not unite, neither outside nor inside churches, and show our ability to respect the frameworks given to us in the name of public health,” Dubost said.
Europe is currently experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases, which has led Ireland and England to impose lockdowns and suspend public masses, while Italy and Spain have put restrictions in place regional and curfews.
There have been more than 1.9 million cases of coronavirus in France this year, resulting in the deaths of 42,603 people, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.
French health authorities reported on November 15 that the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has declined since France implemented its lockdown, but these patients still occupy 96% of the country’s intensive care beds, reported AP.
Responding to the call of the French bishops, a judge clarified that churches can remain open during the lockdown and that Catholics can visit a church near their homes regardless of the distance if they carry the necessary papers. Priests will also be allowed to visit people in their homes and chaplains to visit hospitals.
Catholic weddings can take place with a maximum of six people and funerals with no more than 30 people present.
It was the second week of Catholic demonstrations for some French cities. On November 8, more than 500 Catholics gathered in front of Nantes and Versailles Cathedral, according to the French RTL.
“They sang hymns, there was the prayer of the rosary, it lasted an hour,” Mgr Bruno Valentin, auxiliary bishop of Versailles, told AFP.