The London Metropolitan Police Department is under fire for interrupting and shutting down a Roman Catholic mass on Good Friday, threatening parishioners with fines and arrest if they did not leave.
The incident was captured in a now viral video, which has garnered over 2.2 million views as of publishing time. It shows a London police officer standing in the sanctuary of the church and addressing the parishioners from the lectern.
At the beginning of the video, the priest asks the police officer to “please explain” why he was there.
The officer then stepped up to the lectern and warned, “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,” the officer continued. “Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead you to be fined £200 ($278), 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, that this gathering is unlawful. So please, may you leave,” the officer concluded.
BREAKING: London police shut down Catholic mass on Good Friday
“This gathering is unlawful” pic.twitter.com/JyQMsEtqYS
— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) April 3, 2021
The BBC reports that a representative of the Polish Catholic Mission Balham, which runs the church, said that after the officer threatened the parishioners, they complied with the police request and left.
The representative added, however, that “the police have brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason… 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.”
Defending their actions, the Metropolitan police said in a statement that “some people were not wearing masks and those present were clearly not socially distanced… As such, officers made the decision that it was not safe for that particular service to continue.”
Following the incident, Archbishop John Wilson, who serves as the Archbishop of Southwark, paid a “pastoral visit” to the church.
A statement released by the archdiocese said, “The archbishop has discussed this matter with the Rector of the Catholic Polish Mission, Mgr Stefan Wylezek, who intends to contact the Metropolitan Police authorities about how the situation was handled.”
“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,” it added.
Current guidance from the United Kingdom permits communal worship but stipulates that “limits for communal worship should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following an assessment of risk.”
In a separate incident, a pastor confronted and drove out several Canadian police officers who allegedly attempted to disrupt the Holy Week service.
In a now viral video of the incident (with over 2.9 million views), Pastor Artur Pawlowski repeatedly shouts at the officers, telling them to come back with a warrant.
“Please get out!” Pastor Pawlowski began. “Get out of this property. Immediately get out. Get out of this property. Immediately. Out. I don’t want to hear anything. Out of this property immediately… until you come back with a warrant.”
After the pastor continued to yell at the officers, they slowly left the premises. “Unbelievable,” Pastor Pawlowski said as they left, adding that they were “intimidating people in a church during Passover.”
The Calgary Police released a statement about the incident, saying that one uniformed officer assisted partner health agencies in responding to a “religious gathering.”
“The concern was that the people in attendance were not adhering to the government’s COVID-19 public health orders.”
The police department added that while no tickets were issued at the time, its partner agencies will determine potential enforcement actions in relation to the incident.
Both events raise an important and controversial question: How should Christians respond to government actors attempting to forcibly close worship services ostensibly due to COVID-19? And how can Christians continue to carry out the Great Commission if churches are closed?
Should Christians holding worship services acquiesce to government authorities threatening fines or arrest? Or should Christians choose to respond confrontationally, and refuse to obey?
Thankfully, in the United States, there’s another option. Because of the brilliance of our founding fathers, we have a First Amendment constraining the government from “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. Several times over the past year, the Supreme Court of the United States has sided with churches suing the government over stringent worship restrictions.
For now, the debate between acquiescence and direct confrontation has been postponed due to the high court’s decisions. However, Christians in the United States would be wise to start considering these questions now.
You can follow this author on Parler @ZacharyMettler
Photo from Twitter