Catholic protest sees unfair rules scrapped

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Parishioners observe social distancing guidelines at Mass at St Charles Borromeo in Ryde on 23 March, 2020. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Campaign forces Govt to treat churches equal to pubs

NSW Catholics are celebrating a victory after Premier Gladys Berejiklian was pressured into scrapping unfair COVID-19 restrictions on places of worship.

In less than two days 20,000 Catholics signed a petition strongly protesting the unequal treatment of churches in maintaining a 10-worshipper limit from 1 June while the maximum number for clubs, restaurants, pubs and other venues was lifted to 50.

On 29 May Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP welcomed the government’s sudden change of heart flagged by Premier Berejiklian late on Thursday as a “victory for common sense”.

“Many were concerned that the churches were being left behind”

“The closure of our churches and indeed of all places of worship has been deeply distressing for many people of faith in our community,” Archbishop Fisher said. “It added to the isolation and anxiety that so many were feeling.

“With restrictions easing, many were concerned that the churches were being left behind, and wanted to make their voices heard. People of faith weren’t asking for special treatment, but wanted to be treated equally.”

The Archdiocese of Sydney launched the petition on 27 May after pleas from religious and some civic leaders fell on deaf ears.

As COVID-19 restrictions were eased in recent weeks the needs of churchgoers seemed to have been ignored. IMAGE: Paul Dorin

At the time Archbishop Fisher said that the double standards being applied to people of faith were disappointing and “cannot be ignored” at a time when a bus stopping outside St Mary’s Cathedral is allowed to hold more people than the cavernous building itself.

“I am at a loss to explain to Catholics in Sydney why our reasonable requests to the government are not being granted,” he said.

Sydney Catholics expressed relief at the news, which also means weddings will be allowed up to 20 people and funerals up to 50 people.

“While it’s true that a beer down at the pub with mates is a hallmark of Australian culture, communion with Christ and His Church are essential to the life of Catholics,” said Sarah Moody a parishioner at St Peter’s church in Surry Hills. “There’s no reason we can’t now have both.”

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP is seen on national television as he celebrates Easter Mass via livestream on 12 April 2020, in St Mary’s Cathedral during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Peter Rosengren, The Catholic Weekly

Alison de Sousa, a high school teacher and parishioner at St Felix de Valois in Bankstown, said that she and her friends had been frustrated at the government’s “misunderstanding of the place of our worship services in society”. “Not being in church means we have missed that interaction with each other and also the ability to receive our Lord in the Eucharist,” she said.

Both had signed the petition which read, “Contrary to what has been said throughout this pandemic, we do not consider church attendance to be non-essential; indeed, nothing is more essential than the practice of our faith”.

“nothing is more essential than the practice of our faith”

Archbishop Fisher said he was grateful that so many people took the time to sign the petition expressing their desire to return to church.

“I look forward to welcoming them back in greater numbers from Monday,” he said. “We will continue to abide by government health directives, and continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and all those affected by it.”

Dr Kevin Donnelly, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University said that the case illustrated that “the price of religious freedom is eternal vigilance”.

“While it is good that the NSW Government has admitted its mistake in not treating churches and other places of worship fairly the reality is that its original decision to restrict the number of worshippers was unfairly discriminatory and wrong,” he said.

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