CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2021 / 07:35 am (CNA).- A Polish Catholic parish in London, England, said Saturday that it believed that police “grossly exceeded their powers” when they halted a Good Friday service and ordered parishioners to go home.
Police officers interrupted the Good Friday liturgy at Christ the King Church in Balham, south London, on April 2, ordering worshipers to leave or face a fine or possible arrest.
A video posted on YouTube showed a police officer addressing the congregation from a pulpit in the sanctuary of the church, informing them that the gathering was “unlawful” under current coronavirus restrictions.
An April 3 statement on the parish’s website said: “On Good Friday, April 2, during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, at the moment of the Adoration of the Cross, at about 6 p.m., the police came to the door of our church. We were not allowed to finish the celebration.”
“The police officers, stating that our liturgical assembly was unlawful, ordered everyone to leave our church immediately under the threat of a fine for each of the parishioners present of £200 [around $277] or even arrest. The faithful obeyed this order without objection.”
“We believe, however, that the police grossly exceeded their powers by issuing their order without adequate reason, as all government requirements were met.”
A priest at the church told CNA on Saturday that he believed the parish was treated “very unfairly.”
“We believe that we and our faithful were treated very unfairly, even on such an important day for believers,” assistant priest Fr. Aleksander Dasik said.
In its statement, the parish said: “We believe that borough police officials have been misinformed regarding the current guidelines for places of worship, claiming that the reason for their intervention is the continuing ban on public celebrations in places of worship in London, due to the lockdown introduced from Jan. 4, 2021.”
“We regret that the rights of worshipers have been harmed on such an important day for every believer and that our worship has been profaned.”
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement issued April 3: “At around 1700hrs on Friday, 2 April, officers were called to a report of crowds of people queuing outside a church in Balham High Road.”
“Officers attended and found a large number of people inside the church. Some people were not wearing masks and those present were clearly not socially distanced.”
“We are particularly concerned about the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus as a result of large indoor gatherings at which people are not socially distanced and some are not wearing masks. As such, officers made the decision that it was not safe for that particular service to continue.”
The statement continued: “Understanding the sensitivity of the situation, officers engaged with the priest outside the church and were invited inside to address the congregation. No fixed penalty notices were issued.”
“This was one of a series of numerous events taking place at the church over the Easter period. We are engaging with church authorities today and will continue to do so in the coming days.”
The parish, which belongs to the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales, is located in the Archdiocese of Southwark.
Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark made a pastoral visit to the church on Saturday. The archbishop spoke with clergy and a number of parishioners present at the church, assuring them of his closeness in prayer and offering them his support following the incident.
A statement on the archdiocese’s Facebook page said that Wilson had discussed the matter with Mgsr. Stefan Wylężek, rector of the Polish Catholic Mission, who intended to contact police authorities about how the situation was handled.
The parish said it had asked the police for an explanation of the incident and encouraged parishioners to consider making a formal complaint.
It pointed out that the latest government guidelines and guidance from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales permit public worship in Holy Week, with congregations obliged to observe strict rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The parish’s statement concluded: “All scheduled services for the blessing of Easter food, the Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday will take place as indicated.”
“We ask everyone to observe the current sanitation requirements in the church and community spaces and to pray that similar situations will not occur again.”
This report has been updated to include the visit of Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark to Christ the King Church.
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