Skip links

Catholic priest pursues legal challenge as Scottish government shifts on public Mass ban

A Catholic priest will proceed with a challenge to the Scottish government’s ban on public worship on Thursday despite an announcement that restrictions will be lifted earlier than previously expected.

Canon Tom White will press ahead with the hearing at Scotland’s supreme civil court on March 11-12 in the hope of discouraging future bans on public Masses.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on March 9 that public worship would be restored from March 26 — rather than early April, as she had previously announced — as long as certain conditions were fulfilled.

“This is in time for Passover, Easter, Ramadan, and Vaisakhi,” she said, referring to Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Sikh celebrations.

A cap on the number of worshipers will be raised from 20 to 50, where buildings can accommodate that number of people keeping around six feet apart.

Sturgeon said: “This change is relatively minor, it is proportionate, which we believe can be achieved relatively safely, and which will hopefully enable more people to draw strength, comfort, and inspiration from acts of collective worship.”

Scotland, which has a population of 5.5 million, has recorded 206,465 cases of COVID-19 and 7,441 deaths as of March 10, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. It reported 691 new cases and a further 20 deaths on March 10.

White’s legal challenge will be presented on Thursday at the Court of Session in Edinburgh by Aidan O’Neill, QC. The human rights advocate will argue that the ban is unconstitutional and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

White is pastor of St. Alphonsus Church in Glasgow, as well as dean of the City East Deanery and canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral Chapter. His parish includes three of the most deprived areas of the U.K.

CNA reported last month that White had filed a pre-action letter with the Scottish government seeking to lift restrictions. The priest is using a crowdfunding site to cover the costs of the legal challenge.

Ryan Christopher, director of the Christian legal group ADF UK, which is backing the case, said: “While the decision to eventually reopen churches after almost three months is a step in the right direction, it is important for the court to decide whether this ban was truly justified — especially as there is a good chance such measures could be repeated in the future.”

Scotland’s Catholic bishops called earlier this month for “dialogue” with government officials over the cap on worshipers.

Read more at Catholic News Agency

Share with Friends: