Shocking footage has emerged showing police officers in London barging into a church and breaking up its ongoing Good Friday service for supposedly violating Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) rules regarding mass gatherings.
Good Friday is one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar, as it is when Christians commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Despite the solemnity of the event, police officers still decided to interrupt the Good Friday mass late in the afternoon of Friday, April 2, at the Polish Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King at the Southwest London neighborhood of Balham. This neighborhood has a significant Polish and Roman Catholic community, and many were present at the church for the service.
The congregation was about to begin its Catholic service when several members of the Metropolitan Police Service barged in and stopped the mass from proceeding. The officers went up to the lectern and addressed the congregation directly, telling them to disperse and go home. Failure to do so would warrant a 200 pound fine ($278) for breaking COVID-19 restrictions.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently. You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law. At this moment in time, you need to go home. Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead to you being fined 200 pounds, or if you fail to give your details, to you being arrested. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen – though it is Good Friday and I appreciate you would like to worship – this gathering is unlawful. So please, may you leave the building now. Thank you.”
After the warning, the priest addressed the congregation in Polish for a bit as they dispersed. (Related: London churches flout coronavirus lockdown rules through secret worship services.)
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement regarding the incident that officers went inside the church after responding to multiple reports of crowds gathering outside.
“Understanding the sensitivity of the situation, officers engaged with the priest outside the church, and were invited inside to address the congregation,” said the police in its statement.
Police officers claimed to have seen “a large number of people” when they entered the church, many of whom were not wearing face masks or observing social distancing regulations.
Under the guise of being “particularly concerned about the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” the officers decided to halt the service. They did not issue any fines or penalties to the church or the people in the congregation, since all who were present dispersed when ordered to do so.
According to England’s current lockdown rules, limits for worship services “should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following an assessment of risk.”
Watch the full video showing the police officers entering the church, halting its Good Friday service and forcing the congregants to go home.
On Saturday, the Polish Catholic Mission in Balham stated on the church’s website that although the church complied with police orders, it does not believe it violated any coronavirus regulations.
The Mission believes the Metropolitan Police were misinformed regarding worship guidelines.
“We were not allowed to finish the celebration. The police officers found our liturgical assembly illegal,” said the Mission in its statement. “We believe … that the police brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason, as all government requirements were met.”
“We believe municipal police officials have been misinformed about the current place of worship guidelines,” the Mission added. “We regret that the rights of the faithful have been wronged on such an important day for every believer and that our worship has been profaned.”
The Mission has informed its superiors in the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales regarding the incident. The Rector of the Mission, Monsignor Stefan Wylezek, has made known his intention to file a complaint with the Metropolitan Police.
Wylezek’s complaint will talk about how the situation was improperly handled and it will demand that the Metropolitan Police release an explainer regarding the incident.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, which has authority over the Polish Mission, said that the police reaction to the solemn event was overblown since the entire service would have taken just 30 minutes to complete.
“Public worship is permissible where COVID hygiene procedures are in place and national guidance has been issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales,” said the archdiocese in a statement.
Archbishop John Wilson visited the church on Saturday, April 3, and met with Wylezek to discuss the actions of the police.
Learn more about the lockdown in London and in other parts of the world by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.