LONDON, England, April 3, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Police entered the sanctuary of a Catholic Church during a Good Friday service and threatened worshippers with a fine if they did not immediately leave.
Video footage taken from within Christ the King Polish Catholic Church in southwest London shows police officers following a priest into the sanctuary past altar servers, who were standing ready for the second part of the sacred liturgy, the Veneration of the Cross, as the celebrant looked on. An hour had already elapsed since the beginning of the solemn commemoration of the death of Christ. The liturgy was being livestreamed.
“Somebody called the police,” said Fr. Aleksander Dasik without preamble.
“The police have arrived, and they say that we aren’t following some rules.”
He said that he did not understand exactly what rules they were breaking because they all had masks, they were keeping their distance, and attendance had been restricted to those with tickets. In broken English, he asked the police to explain.
As the female police officer stood staring at the congregation with folded arms, the male officer told the congregation that their "gathering” was illegal—a strange declaration, as public worship is, in fact, legal in England.
“Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately your gathering is unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently,” he said.
“You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law.”
Currently there is no firm restriction on the size of congregations during worship services in England. The guidance is that “when attending a place of worship visitors must not mingle with anyone outside of their household or support bubble", not that they should be limited in number. Nevertheless, the police officer then threatened to arrest and fine the Catholics who did not leave the church.
“At this moment in time, you need to go home," the officer said.
“Failing to comply with this direction …. ultimately could lead to you to be fined £200 , or if you failed to give your details to being arrested.”
There was a pause as the worshippers looked at each other and began to complain. But while acknowledging that it was “difficult”, the celebrant, Fr. Władysław Wyszadów, told the congregation in Polish that if they didn’t leave the church, every person would be fined £200. He said they could make a spiritual communion.
“Please leave the church quickly,” he said. “Please go.”
The female police officer wandered around the sanctuary, making or taking phone calls.
An online complaint was subsequently published on the parish website. It described what had happened and said that the police had been out of order.
“We believe that the police brutally exceeded their powers, giving their orders without any good reason, for all the government requirements were met," it said in Polish.
“We believe that officials of the Metropolitan Police have been misinformed about the current guidelines regarding places of worship, saying that the reason for their intervention is the continuing ban in force against public worship in London from the January 4, 2021 lockdown,” it continued.
“We regret that the rights of the faithful were violated on such an important day for every believer, and our worship profaned. We have informed the superiors of the Polish Catholic Mission in England of Wales of this incident. We have asked the leaders of the police to explain the incident, and we are waiting for their response.”
Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the British libertarian Spiked Online magazine, stated that the video of the incident “captures, better than anything [he’d] seen, how thoroughly Britain has lost its way as a result of the hysteria and illiberalism of the Covid crisis.”
The journalist was shocked by the police officer’s warning that the worshippers could be fined or arrested.
“It feels chilling to hear such a bureaucratic threat being issued to people who are exercising their freedom of religion,” O’Neill said,
“There are so many disturbing things about this assault on a religious gathering,” he continued.
“First, it is being reported that the church had taken the necessary measures to make itself Covid-secure. But even if it hadn’t, couldn’t the police have waited until the service was over before having a word with the priest, perhaps? Secondly, who grassed on these Catholics? Who phoned the police to tell them a group of people was marking the death of Christ? What kind of curtain-twitching, ratting-out country have we become?”
LifeSiteNews reached out to the Metropolitan Police, and received the following statement:
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.
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.