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Not this Easter, German courts tell churchgoers

April 7, 2020

Two courts have dismissed bids by churchgoers to overturn bans on gatherings during the pandemic — including for Easter services. Catholic and Protestant leaders are urging congregants to stay "responsibly" in isolation.

A priest in Achern  holds mass with photos of people who cannot attend in person
Image: Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach

Administrative courts in Berlin and Hesse have ruled against Catholic churchgoers keen to assemble at Easter — despite 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 strictures introduced mid-March remained over Easter.

Protestant head Heinrich Bedford-Strom said saving lives by slowing infection was the "guiding principle."

Read moreSeparating fact from fiction in Germany’s coronavirus response

"Televised church services, livestreams or telephone prayer — the Easter message can't be stopped," Bedford-Strom said.

The Catholic bishop Rudolf Voderholzer asked dissenters if they "really wanted to boost the virus's spread."

On Tuesday, Berlin's administrative court rejected an emergency application from Catholic congregants who wanted a service for 50 people.

Berlin's decree does not violate religious freedoms, judges ruled.

Earlier, administrative courts in Hesse and Saxony ruled that bans on gatherings are lawful.

On Tuesday, the constitutional jurist Horst Dreier told Düsseldorf's Rheinische Post newspaper that banning church services was "very problematic."

Dreier suggested widely-spaced pews and staggered services. Many people needed spiritual support; online services were "not really a substitute," said Dreier.

The retired TV presenter Peter Hahne, a Protestant, accused church leaders of rushing to obey secular authorities last month.

Read moreGermany's coronavirus travel restrictions

"Beverage stores are open, the church is not. Whom do you want to explain that to?" Hahne told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. He said not being allowed to physically attend services struck at the "core" of church practice.

The Hesse-Nassau Protestant diocese president, Volker Jung, called Hahne's remark "irresponsible." He said congregants stayed longer at churches than shoppers did in stores.

Thomas Mertens, a lead virologist at Germany's pandemic advisory Robert Koch Institute, 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)

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