Police checked on a Polish Catholic church again today during its Easter Sunday Mass after officers shut down its Good Friday service for breaching Covid rules and threatened worshippers with £200 fines.
Officers shut down the religious ceremony at Christ The King church, Balham High Road, at around 6pm on Friday – YouTube footage showed one telling worshippers from its lecturn that the gathering was “unlawful” and that they had to go home.
Official coronavirus guidance states communal worship or prayer can be attended by as many people as a place of worship can accommodate, as long as they are socially distanced. Masks should be worn, according to the government rules.
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 pm, 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 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.”
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement issued April 3: “At around 5pm 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.
“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 part of the Archdiocese of Southwark.
Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark made a pastoral visit to the church on Saturday offering them his support.
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.”
Today around 50 worshippers listened to mass through speakers introduced after Friday’s dispersal. Many families with small children gathered outside, before being allowed to go in to the church later when there was more room inside.
Two police officers arrived and spoke to church stewards, but left soon after.
Tomsz Niewiadomski, who was queuing to see the second mass of the day, said everyone inside on Friday was wearing masks and social distancing.
The 39-year-old, who lives in nearby Streatham, told Mailonline: “Its not right what they did. The police didn’t seem to know the rules.
‘I was standing just inside the door at the back. They came in and said everyone was breaking the law before checking what was in place. They said no one was social distancing and it was unsafe.
“But everyone was wearing masks and sitting apart from each other. There was a booking system so there was only a certain number of people inside.”
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