Catholic bishops of Scotland believe public worship will be allowed to continue despite heightened lockdown restrictions, after discussions with Scottish ministers.

But in a letter to sent to Scotland's 550 Catholic parishes, they urge the Catholic community to maintain their "meticulous" infection control and safety measures.

The bishops said that the want of prayer and faith can do "great harm to the spiritual wellbeing of nations".

The letter comes as faith communities across Scotland are struggling to come to terms with the impact of the pandemic on their members and their finances.

After months of virtual services and meetings, churches, mosques and synagogues were finally allowed to reopen on July 15.

While the rate of Covid-19 infections is on the rise across Scotland and public anxiety is increasing, the bishops have asked priests and parishioners, to "persevere in our efforts to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that our parishes and communities adhere to all infection control measures that have been put in place."

They wrote: "Our discussions with the Scottish Government assure us that Government is aware of our extremely careful protocols and trusts us to see to our public worship and parish life with the discretion of responsible citizens. We, for our part, assure Government that we are employing this discretion for the good of public health in accordance with the law.

"On that basis, we have every confidence that, if parishes continue these high standards, public worship and parish life can carry on and we will continue to attend to the spiritual welfare of the nation."

Commenting on the letter, Bishop John Keenan, vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: "The tireless work of priests, parishioners and volunteers have ensured that Catholic churches are among the safest places for people to attend in the midst of this pandemic. The bishops are urging everyone to redouble their efforts to reduce the risk of transmission and ensure that we all adhere to the infection control measures that we have put in place.

“Although no evidence has emerged of cases or clusters connected to our churches, we have every confidence that, if parishes continue their high standards of infection control, then public worship and parish life can carry on and we will continue to be able to attend to the spiritual welfare of the nation.

HeraldScotland:

“Among the many terrible effects of this pandemic is a surge in cases of depression, hopelessness and suicide. The loss of normality in all its facets has left many feeling bereft and desolate, in need of spiritual solace, like never before. It is in times of greatest peril that we need the spiritual comfort of public worship most, now, more than ever, our church doors need to be open, so that worshipping in safety can continue.”

While some churches have opened, the doors of many others have nonetheless remained closed amid concerns over the age and health of members of their congregations.

Meanwhile, they continue to incur costs, only now without the steady financial support they would normally receive through weekly collections.

The Church of Scotland estimates it faces a £20m shortfall in its annual income, and religious leaders have warned it is "too early to tell" if they can prevent that funding gap from growing larger over the coming months.

The Scottish Bishops letter acknowledged the issues posed by coronavirus.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has presented the church with unprecedented challenges,"they said. "It has brought about the temporary closure of churches and, following the resumption of public worship, the introduction of rigorous health and safety measures to prevent transmission of the virus.

"Since the resumption of public worship our parishes have been meticulous in controlling infection and ensuring the safety of all those who cross the threshold of a Catholic church. The bishops wish to commend the work and cooperation of priests, parishioners and volunteers whose extraordinary efforts have ensured that Catholic churches are among the safest places for people to attend in the midst of this pandemic.

"However, we are now at a fragile point. The rate of Covid-19 infections is on the rise across Scotland and public anxiety is increasing. At this critical moment, we ask that we all persevere in our efforts to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that our parishes and communities adhere to all infection control measures that have been put in place.

In expressin confidence that churches can remain open going forward, they added: "From long experience of plagues and disasters, the church knows how the want of prayer and faith can do great harm to the spiritual wellbeing of nations, and how our public worship - owed to God - can bring His special divine assistance in times of national trouble.

"Now, more than ever, our church doors need to be open, and consolidating our hard work to date will ensure this blessing for ourselves and for our country."