Authorities crack down on priests for saying public Masses, defying COVID-19 orders
March 31, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Several priests in various parts of the world have been arrested or confronted by authorities for celebrating public Masses in spite of government directives prohibiting gatherings for religious purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Germany, a pastor of the Polish community in Hannover had opened the church for a prayer meeting last Sunday. Thirty to 40 faithful were present in the 7,500 square foot facility (700 square meters). He was later charged for opening his church.
German Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagespost reported that the priest, Fr. Tadeusz Kluba, was charged with a petty offense. Kluba said he did not understand how churches have to close while grocery stores and public transportation can be accessed by many people at once.
UCA News wrote that in India, the police “booked seven people, including two Catholic priests and three nuns,” as well as two seminarians, for “defying prohibitory orders” after the coronavirus outbreak.
Fr. Manoj Kakkonal, spokesman of the eparchy of Manathavadi, where the arrest took place, told UCA News the arrest “seems to be a case of misunderstanding.”
It was not a public Mass, the priest explained, given that the priests and seminarians live at the seminary. “The police initially found nothing wrong. However, they later recorded their arrest and released them with a warning against repeating it,” Fr. Manoj said.
A week earlier, Fr. Paul Padayatti, another Indian priest, was arrested “after he officiated a requiem Mass for more than 100 people, violating the prohibitory orders of the state police,” UCA News wrote.
In Uganda, Fr. Deogratias Kiibi Kateregga was arrested for celebrating Mass with “at least 15 Catholics in attendance.” After questioning and protests by parishioners, the priest was released.
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had suspended “religious, cultural and political gatherings for at least 32 days on grounds that it would help to prevent the spread of the pandemic, which has forced nearly one billion people around the world confined to their homes,” according to Daily Monitor.
Police in Kenya raided a number of churches “where congregants and church officials were defying government-issued orders banning any kind of public gatherings, including worshiping in churches,” Anadolu Agency wrote.
“We arrested two priests, several nuns and over 40 congregants for defying the law which aims at reducing and preventing the spread of coronavirus. They were arrested at St. Paul’s Kanduyi parish and Christ the King Catholic Church,” the police said.
LifeSiteNews reported Monday on a priest of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) being warned by Toronto police. They said “he could be fined for violating a provincial order restricting public gatherings because of the coronavirus.”
“We organized ourselves to comply with the rule of 50 persons max and the social distancing requirement. Faithful had to register for Mass and we set up clear marking on the pews to keep social distancing while attending Mass,” the priest explained.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said churches could be closed down permanently if people are gathering for services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to say to all those who are preparing the potential of religious services this weekend – if you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services,” de Blasio announced during a press conference streamed online.
In case of disobedience, law enforcement “will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently,” de Blasio added.
Meanwhile, Bishop Athanasius Schneider stated that a priest, using discretion and following the necessary health precautions “has not to obey the directives of his bishop or the government to suspend Mass for the faithful.”
Directives canceling all public Masses “are a pure human law; however, the supreme law in the Church is the salvation of souls,” said the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Mary Most Holy in Astana, Kazakhstan.
“Priests in such a situation have to be extremely creative in order to provide for the faithful, even for a small group, the celebration of Holy Mass and the reception of the sacraments. Such was the pastoral behavior of all confessor and martyr priests in the time of persecution,” he added.
Like the pastor for the Polish community in Hannover, Bishop Schneider pointed out that attending Mass is as essential as shopping at grocery stores or using public transportation, both of which have not been shut down. “One could guarantee in churches the same and even better hygienic protective measures.”
Cardinal Raymond Burke had also criticized the suspension of public Masses.
“Even as we have found a way to provide for food and medicine and other necessities of life during a time of contagion, without irresponsibly risking the spread of the contagion, so, in a similar way, we can find a way to provide for the necessities of our spiritual life,” the American cardinal said in a statement.