Medical masks must now be worn throughout religious services, federal and state governments have decided. The head of the NRW Catholic Office sees no problem in this and condemns irresponsible behavior.
Interviewer: Medical masks must be worn during religious services as well as other religious gatherings, federal and state governments now say. What exactly is meant by "religious gatherings"??
Dr. Antonius Hamers (head of the Catholic Office of North Rhine-Westphalia): These are, of course, primarily our services, there are no great other gatherings at the moment. Another meeting, of course, could be a catechesis, a children’s catechesis or a Bible discussion, for example. But all of that is virtually cancelled at the moment, so for us, at least for now, these religious gatherings are exclusively church services.
Interviewer: Who then is responsible for ensuring that everyone wears medical masks in religious services? Must the pastor at the church gate control?
Hamers: First of all, the respective worshipper is responsible for it. It is the respective addressee. But of course we will also pay attention to this and point out again that these so-called medical masks are to be worn.
Interviewer: Are there fines for violations??
Hamers: It is amed that the whole thing will be punished as a misdemeanor, so whoever violates it, just like someone who violates it on public transportation or in stores, will also be fined.
Interviewer: Medical masks from the first to the last minute in the church service. How do you find that?
Hamers: For us it is very important that we can make it clear that we continue to celebrate services with great responsibility, that our services are really infection-proof and that the people who come to us, as before, firstly decide with great personal responsibility whether they want to come and secondly also take great personal responsibility to ensure that the service is a safe event for them and for the others who are there.
In this respect, I find it plausible that if medical masks are worn in stores and on public transport, then the same obligation applies to us in church services. I think that is good and right.
Interviewer: Another rule states that religious services must be reported to the public order office at least two working days in advance. Is that now a problem?
Hamers: This rule has been changed somewhat, not least due to the intervention of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was intended to apply to everyone.
Now it is explicitly stated in the resolution that this does not apply to religious communities that have already made arrangements with the state chancellery. And among them we fall as the Catholic Church. We already presented our first rules in April of last year, and have continued to update them in consultation with the State Chancellery, so that the State Chancellery is precisely informed about them and the local public order offices are also informed about the conditions under which we celebrate church services.
Our church services are published anyway, for example in parish newsletters or on the Internet, so that this obligation to register will not apply to us as a Catholic church.
Interviewer: In recent weeks and months, we have heard again and again about free church or evangelical congregations that meet without masks and even sing together. Do such messages have a negative impact on the public perception of the churches in general??
Hamers: That is precisely something that has annoyed us, that church services thereby come under a general suspicion or, as the case may be, a general suspicion. church services as a whole are discredited. We have always defended ourselves against this and have repeatedly said that we cannot be held jointly liable for other denominations, for other religions, which do not adhere to these requirements.
If there are services or gatherings where these requirements are not adhered to, then it is up to the regulatory authorities to make sure that this service is broken up or. that this is adhered to. But we have always spoken out against justifying a general ban on church services in this way. We have, thank God, succeeded so far.
The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.