Administrative courts in Berlin and Hesse have overruled dissident Catholic churchgoers keen to assemble at Easter — despite pandemic bans on gatherings to slow the viral spread of Sars-CoV-2.
The legal rulings prompted reminders from leaders of Germany’s Catholic and Protestant churches that government pandemic strictures introduce mid-March remained over Easter.
Protestant head Heinrich Bedford-Strom said saving lives by slowing infection was the “guiding principle.” Conservative Catholic bishop Rudolf Voderholzer asked dissenters if they “really wanted to boost the virus’ spread?”
“Televised church services, livestreams or telephone prayer, the Easter message can’t be stopped,” added Bedford-Strom.
Berlin’s administrative court on Tuesday rejected an emergency application from an offshoot of one Catholic congregation that wanted a service limited to 50 persons.
Berlin’s coronavirus control decree did not violate religious freedoms, judges ruled.
Earlier, administrative courts in Hesse and Saxony had declared pandemic bans on gatherings as lawful, and in Hesse’s case, rejected a lone Catholic’s application.
On Tuesday, constitutional jurist Horst Dreier told Düsseldorf’s Rheinische Post newspaper that banning church services was “very problematic.”
He suggested widely-spaced pews and revolving services. Many people needed spiritual support; online services were “not really a substitute,” said Dreier.
Protestant and retired TV presenter Peter Hahne accused Protestant leaders of rushing last month to obey secular authorities.
“Beverage stores are open, the church is not. Whom do you want to explain that to?” said Hahne, telling the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper that not being allowed to physically attend services struck at the “core” of church practice.
The Hesse-Nassau Protestant diocese president, Volker Jung, rebuffed Hahne’s remark as “irresponsible,” asserting churchgoers stayed longer together than shoppers.
A lead virologist at Germany’s pandemic advisory Robert Koch Institute, Thomas Mertens, told the Catholic KNA news agency: “Infection can only be excluded in this space [a church] when religious services do not take place.”
ipj/dr (KNA, epd)