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Coronavirus restrictions and public worship

Due to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, the Minister of Health declared the state of epidemic emergency on the entire territory of the Republic of Poland. The relevant regulation was issued on 13 March 2020 and entered into force on the same day. The scope of permissible restrictions during the state of emergency is regulated by the Act of 5 December 2008 on preventing and fighting human infections and infectious diseases. According to its Article 46, under the state of epidemic emergency it is possible, among other things, to prohibit the organization of assemblies of any kind. Among the solutions introduced pursuant to the Minister’s regulation of 13 March 2020, there are restrictions concerning public worship, including religious services held in churches and other places of worship. They consist in limiting the number of participants of liturgy to maximum 50 people, which corresponds to the prohibition to organize any gatherings of more than 50 people and the limitations on the functioning of restaurants and large shopping centres. Schools and universities had already been closed several days earlier.

The restrictions on public worship have been met with understanding on the part of representatives of churches and other religious organizations. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, on 12 March 2020 the Permanent Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference issued a document recommending that diocesan bishops grant broad dispensations from the obligation to participate in the Sunday Mass until 29 March. In his address delivered on 14 March, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, explicitly encouraged the faithful to take advantage of the dispensations granted and remain at home, as well as to watch or listen to liturgies broadcast over the mass media. Nevertheless, churches have been left open, and Holy Masses have generally been celebrated according to the regular schedule, although with little or no participation of the faithful.

Only individual diocesan bishops have decided to introduce further restrictions (e.g., the bishop of the Gliwice diocese has cancelled all liturgies involving participation of the faithful).
In the survey conducted by IBRiS – Market and Social Research Institute for the Rzeczpospolita journal, 63.4% of respondents regarded the decisions taken by the Church authorities as adequate for the situation, while 16.9% of those surveyed considered them an insufficient way of protecting the faithful from the epidemic (19.7% of respondents did not have a clear opinion on this question).

D 17 March 2020    APiotr Stanisz

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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