GLASGOW, Scotland (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic bishop chairing the COVID-19 Pastoral Ministry Working Group in Scotland has sparked alarm among Catholics after revealing that restoring normal parish life is contingent on finding a vaccine for the Wuhan virus.
"While it will be wonderful when our parishes can reopen, we recognize that parish life cannot quickly return to normal until a vaccine or a treatment is available," Bp. Brian McGee of the diocese of Argyll and the Isles announced.
"We do not expect this to happen until at least 2021" and "parish activities will still be greatly restricted," McGee noted, "even when churches reopen."
"No normality means no Mass, no Communion. Catholics in Scotland continue to be scandalously and systematically denied participation in the Mass as bishops and their bureaucrats collude with the ruling atheistic, leftist Scottish National Party (SNP)," a Catholic lay leader from Glasgow told Church Militant.
"The bishops seem to have decided, years ago, on a policy of appeasement, at odds with their status as shepherds in a deeply secular country," he observed. "Only after Catholics flooded every single bishops' inbox with e-mails demanding a resumption of Masses, there has been some talk of the possibility of commencing normal parish life, and that too in 2021."
Sources told Church Militant that the bishops were taken aback by the extent of protest from lay Catholics through the OpenChurchesScotland campaign and some in the hierarchy even resorted to subtle threats to bully campaign leaders into silence.
"The continued and prolonged ban on the Mass in Scotland has very disturbing origins and implications," Catholics from a lay-led fraternity told Church Militant.
"Scottish dioceses banned reception of Communion on the tongue before Scotland officially went into lockdown and bishops in all eight dioceses unilaterally suspended public Masses on March 18 even before they were required to do so by the government," they explained.
A week later the bishops shut all churches, announcing: "Having given due consideration to the words of the first minister last evening, we, the bishops of Scotland, agree that our churches should be closed during this period of national emergency for the common good."
"There appeared to be no consideration of the possibility of keeping churches open with social distancing and other necessary measures — something achieved in several other countries and which is now working successfully in Italy and elsewhere," one lay Catholic commented. "This was followed by a period of bewildering silence from the bishops."
Catholics from various dioceses in Scotland told Church Militant they were attending "clandestine Masses."
"I started to attend a Traditional Latin Mass covertly at 7:15 a.m. in a semi-rural parish," a young Catholic professional said. "I know that many others have also done so, most at traditionalist parishes, in the main body of the Church. But these have largely stopped due to non-TLM clergy snitching on us."
Another Catholic lamented:
There has also been at least one covert Novus Ordo Mass, held recently at Carfin Grotto. This clearly shows that the faithful have had to go to extraordinary measures to receive spiritual nourishment, and that across the church there is very deep concern and objection to the current situation.
Sources also told Church Militant how pressure from OpenChurchesScotland may have resulted in the creation of the first COVID-19 working group announced by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland (BCS) on May 5.
Chaired by Sir Harry Burns, Scotland's former chief medical officer, the working group "will begin work on the creation of an infection control protocol to govern the phased reopening of churches for public worship at an early and safe opportunity, in accordance with legislation and the current Scottish Government guidelines on social distancing and hygiene," a BCS statement said.
However, on May 13 the BCS announced the creation of a second COVID-19 working group chaired by Bp. McGee "which will begin examining how best to meet the long-term pastoral needs of the Catholic community during the pandemic."
Faithful Catholics said that the working groups were merely "kicking the can down the road" and were "a mechanism to obfuscate and delay the reopening of churches and the restoration of Mass even though supermarkets and other essential provisions, even including a provision for abortion, was being made available."
"Equally concerning is the fact that the working groups include a number of key players in the Scottish Church with very close connections to the SNP," a source close to the bishops revealed.
"This includes a former SNP candidate who stood for the deputy leadership of the SNP and is now the director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office; Scotland's former chief medical officer; a lawyer; and Fr. Tom Boyle, an enforcer for the bishops of Scotland," he added.
"Many Catholics feel as if they have been cast adrift and are in a 'no-mans land' in Scotland due to the lack of ecclesiastical support for basic Catholic teaching and the near-absence of a defense of Catholic social teaching in the Catholic and mainstream media," he stressed.
On Sunday, archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia indicated in his sermon that "something has changed."
"We have been advised too that churches may open for limited purposes in phase two, which will be after the June 18 review, and that public Masses and acts of worship may resume with phase three that will follow the July 9 review," the archbishop said. "The government has stressed that these dates and phases are provisional, depending on how the virus is being controlled."
However, Catholics said there was "nothing substantive, no dates and no timeline" in the archbishop's "wishy washy" announcement, adding that Tartaglia was deeply embedded in politics of the SNP.
"Archbishop Tartaglia appears to be on the same political journey as the numerous Catholics who have swelled the ranks of the SNP in recent years," The Tablet, a liberal Catholic British journal, wrote in 2015. "At times, priests in his archdiocese have struggled to separate their pro-independence sympathies from discharging their religious duties."
"For years, several of the leading officials who advise the Scottish hierarchy have also been well known for their pro-SNP views. They include Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, and David Kerr, an adviser to the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley," the article confirmed.
"The Scottish Catholic Church is not in a good place. Some of its clergy and functionaries act more as partisan political cheerleaders than as dedicated pastors keen to strengthen its community in an increasingly secular era," world-renowned Scottish Catholic composer Sir James MacMillan wrote in 2016 in The Spectator.
"Never have I witnessed a senior cleric suck up to a politician so shamelessly," Catholic journalist Damian Thompson wrote of Abp. Tartaglia accusing the Catholic hierarchy of partisanship in the referendum for an independent Scotland in 2014.
Earlier this week, Church Militant reported on Bp. McGee's reluctance to pray in the name of Jesus using the trinitarian formula during a Muslim-Catholic prayer meeting.
Meanwhile, Fr. Gerard Byrne, parish priest of St. Brigid Church in Toryglen, Glasgow, warned that the parish income has fallen to just 10% of what the church normally receives and that the future of many churches was bleak: "We have little income right now, and from speaking to other priests around the city, they're very much in the same position."
Church Militant contacted Bp. McGee for comment. "The church is preparing for the restricted resumption of liturgical life. A full return to normal liturgical life will only be possible post-vaccine," the bishop's office responded.
"This is demonstrably true for churches, businesses, schools and the entirety of society. It will not, however, prevent parishes from reopening in the coming months." But "even when churches reopen, parish activities will still be greatly restricted," the statement added.