PRESS STATEMENT: Opening Places of Worship



Wednesday, 27 May 2020

(Click here to download) 

Opening Places of Worship

The Jesuit Institute South Africa has noted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that places of worship may reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on 1 June 2020. We wholeheartedly support the call for a National Day of Prayer on 31 May, Pentecost Sunday.

Many people of faith have suffered the loss and pain of not being allowed to gather in their respective communities for worship. We know this. Refraining from gathering was seen as a way of religious communities actively choosing to care by temporarily stopping a core practice ­­­– gathering for worship ­– for the common good. We do not need to open churches right now to practise our faith. Prayer, acts of kindness, reading sacred texts and service of neighbour can continue without gathering in the midst of this pandemic.

This sudden, seemingly rushed move is questionable. Evidence of cluster spread in other parts of the world suggests that even in places of worship where strict social distancing rules were upheld there were reports of infection. The more people mix, the more there is potential for spread. Places of worship are not immune to the virus. This move seems to contradict the President’s oft repeated phrase that we must be “guided by the overriding principle of doing whatever it takes to preserve life”.

The government is also sending mixed messages. While a ban on friend and family visits remains in place, it seems illogical that people can gather in places of worship.

The move creates yet another inequality at a time that has highlighted our profoundly unequal society: those who get to attend and those who don’t. How and by whom will this be decided – and monitored? It goes against the very spirit of being a community of believers to split that community. This is an almost impossible decision to make for religious leaders who may have to decide.

Many places of worship do not have the financial capacity to provide the prescribed personal protection equipment and/or personnel to sanitize the buildings, furniture and equipment that is necessary.

Will police check places of worship and break up gatherings of more than 50 persons?

The President insists that the government is learning from other parts of the world and listening to scientists. Fair enough. And we know opinion is divided, evidence uncertain, and the right course unclear. There is a logic behind saying that if we open up businesses, churches should follow. But there is a difference between opening up for economic survival, particularly as people start to starve, and opening institutions that could function differently in these times.

In ethical situations where there are no good options, an ethical response should err on the side of caution. Sadly, we do not believe this does.


For more information:

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
Director: Jesuit Institute South Africa
+27 82 737 2054


Fr Anthony Egan SJ
+27 72 938 4553


Following the President’s announcement that Churches may re-open from 1 June, several members of the Institute were interviewed or quoted in various media. On CapeTalk, Radio 702, herehere and here, as well as being mentioned at Daily MaverickThe Citizen, EyeWitness News, The Tablet, Independent Catholic News,  and ACI Africa, The Globe and Mail, 2oceansvibe, America Magazine, and Fr Anthony Egan SJ spoke to SABC News and Fr Russell Pollitt SJ was also quoted in News24 and EWN, here and here and in the Mail&Guardian Editorial. Fr Russell Pollitt SJ was also interviewed on eNCA, ETV News, and gave an op-ed to News24 through the Bhekisa: Centre for Health Journalism.

Gerald Imray wrote an article for the Associated Press (with contributions from Jerome Delay and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg), which was picked up by The China PostThe Gazette, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, as well as the following radio and wire syndicates:

10 On your side, 13 WOWK-TV, 1310 News, 570News, 680 News, 69WFMZ TV, 8NewsNow Las Vegas, ABC 10 News, ABC 4 News, ABC 6, ABC 7 News KVIA, ABC 8 News, ABC 9 WFTV, ABC News, Access WDUN,, Arklatex Homepage, Athens WGAU Radio, Bastille Post Global, Beaumont Enterprise, Boston 25 News, Bowling Green Daily News, Bozeman Daily Chronicle,, Central Illiniois, Chicago WGN Radio 720, Chron, City News 1130, City News 600, Click2Houston, ClickOnDetroit,, Concho Valley Homepage, ctpost, Daily News Record, Dayton Daily News, DevDiscourse, Fairfield Citizen, Federal News Network, Fox 51 KETK News, Fox WFXR TV, Fox13 Memphis News, Fox23 News, Fox46 Charlotte, Fox5 Las Vegas News, Go Lackawanna, Greenwich Time,, Houston Chronicle, Illinois Herald-Whig, Indiana Tribune Star,,, KCTV News5, KDWN, Keloland, Killeen Daily Herald, KIRO 7 News, 10, KOIN 6 News,,,, KTAR News 92.3FM, LMTonline,,, Longview News Journal, Manistee News Advocate, Midland Daily News, Milford Mirror, MRT, My Stateline,, MyJournalCourier, MyMcMurray,, MyNorthWest, Nashua Telegraph, Nation&State, NBC 10 News, NBC 8 KULR, NBC 9 KTSM, NBC, NBC WNKY40 MeTV, NBC WRDE Coast TV, New Canaan Advertiser, New Haven Register, News 8, News 95.7, News 965 WDBO, News4Jax, Newser, NewsTimes,, NW Cable MyWave, Outlook India, Pioneer Big Rapids News, (syndicated to 1010wins, 106.3 Word, KNSS, KXNT 840, WBEN 930am, WCBC NewsRadio 880, WILK NewsRadio 103.1, and WWL),, River Bender, Rochester, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle pi, Seattle Times, Service Electric Cablevision, SFGate, Spectrum Local News, Spectrum News Bay News 9, Stamford Advocate, Star Tribune, Taiwan News, The Barre Montpelier Times Argus online, The Benzie County Record Patriot, The Berkshire Eagle, The Daily Independent, The Derrick, The Epoch Times, The Greater New Milford Spectrum, The Herald Bulletin, The Hour, The Indiana Tribune, The Intelligencer Edwardsville, The Iowa Clinton Herald, The Journal, The Lufkin Daily News, The Oaklahoman, The Peterborough Examiner, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Public’s Radio, The Rayfield Review, The Record, The Register Citizen, The Republic, The Rutland Herald, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Sharon Herald, The Star, The Telegraph, The Trumbull Times, The Wabash, The Washington Times, The Wilton Bulletin, Times Leader, Times Union, Toronto CityNews, Traverse City Eagle, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Tyler Morning Telegraph, U.S. News & World Report,, WBAL News Radio, WBOC-TV Fox News, WGAU radio,, WIVB, WKRG 5 News,,,, WSB 95.5 Radio, WSOC TV, WTOP News, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Sports, Yakima Herald,,, and many others.



Fr Anthony speaks on NightTalk with Gushwell Brooks on Radio 702

Fr Matthew speaks with Eusebius McKaiser on Radio 702 (at 8m 55s)

Fr Russell speaks to Sheila Pires’ Catholic View on Radio Veritas

Fr Russell speaks on the Afternoon Drive with Joanne Joseph on Radio 702

Fr Russell speaks to Thabiso Tema on POWER Drive on POWER 98.7

Fr Matthew quoted on the #702Openline with Eusebius McKaiser on Radio 702

Fr Russell speaks on ‘Breakfast with Refilwe Moloto’ on CapeTalk


Jesuit Institute Spokesperson
  • David ZA
    Posted at 09:21h, 27 May

    This seems to imply that you want the state to check more, and monitor and enforce.
    Unfortunately, that’s OK on the major level, but not to be micromanaged on the details.
    Church leadership should be able to manage their affairs and the safety of the people as they have been for generations.
    If the “church” cannot, then it’s a problem with that specific community that must be addressed. Is there not a council of churches etc, why do we expect government to interfere with every issue in the church, unless it becomes a problem of the wider community.

  • Mohit Sureka
    Posted at 15:04h, 27 May

    I am not a religious person but kudos to your team for raising valid points! Keep at it.

  • Rita Raubenheimer
    Posted at 19:36h, 29 May

    No Catholic church should open until we can all go to mass

Click to subscribe to:

In terms of the recently gazetted Government Notice 417, section 5.4.1: