France’s top court orders review of Covid-19 restrictions on church attendance

Mass is celebrated at Lyon's Saint-Jean Cathedral on May 23, 2020 when places of worship were allowed to open.
Mass is celebrated at Lyon's Saint-Jean Cathedral on May 23, 2020 when places of worship were allowed to open. © AFP / Jeff Pachoud

France's State Council, the country's highest court, has ordered the government to review a rule limiting the number of people in churches during religious services to 30.


The Council said in a statement on Sunday that the measure was not proportionate to coronavirus infection risks.

Last week, the government announced that a nationwide lockdown in place since Oct. 30 would be unwound in phases.

Shops selling non-essential goods were allowed to reopen from Saturday and indoor religious services were also allowed to resume, but the number of worshippers has been capped at 30 people, regardless of the size of the place of worship.

Catholic organisations have challenged the limit, arguing that churches and cathedrals are much more spacious than retail outlets, where the limit is one person per eight square metres.

"When you see the images of yesterday's demonstration with this tightly packed crowd, and think that in large churches there can only be 30 people, it's absurd," the bishop of Nanterre, Matthieu Rouge, told BFM TV, referring to the Paris protests against article 24 of the "global security" law.

The French government denied that the Catholic faithful were being stigmatised.

France is "not the only country" to have adopted this type of measure, said Pascale Leglise, an Interior Ministry representative.

She said it was futile to compare businesses and places of worship.

"In a store, people pass by, don't talk to each other, don't sit next to each other," she said, noting that theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants remained closed.

However, Leglise acknowledged that "thirty people (in a place of worship) is not a lot", adding that places of worship could "hold more Masses – not only on Sunday morning".

Religious representatives were expected to meet with Prime Minister Jean Castex later on Sunday.



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