NSW Labor speaks out against unfair Christmas Mass restrictions

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

One of thousands who attended Christmas Masses at St Mary’s Cathedral in 2019: a woman prays at Midnight Mass. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The current restrictions are unfair and it’s taking a toll on people of faith

New South Wales Labor has joined forces with religious leaders in the outcry of inconsistent restrictions placed on religious observances.

NSW Labor Opposition Leader Jodi McKay has joined forces with faith leaders to allow religious observances at Christmas to be treated on par with other events during COVID-19 PHOTO: NSW Parliament

“The current restrictions are unfair and it’s taking a toll on people of faith,” said NSW Labor Opposition Leader McKay.

Currently, religious services inside must follow the four square metre rule with up to a maximum of 300 people meaning Catholic churches are still limited to 100-150 people at each Mass. 

It doesn’t make sense

Outdoor services, however, can cater for 500 people under the two square metre rule if parishioners are assigned a seat.  Meanwhile, other venues and events such as sports matches, shopping malls, and casinos are somehow exempt from such restrictions in the lead up to Christmas.

St Mary’s Cathedral with a COVID-19 sign-in cordon. A sight all too familiar this year for people of faith outside their places of worship during COVID-19. While People of faith are willing to comply with restrictions – many are wondering why there is an unequal treatment of religious observance in comparison to other large events – especially at a time of year most sacred to many faith traditions PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

“Forty thousand people were allowed to attend the footy grand final and eleven thousand attended the Everest horse race but there is still a maximum of 300 people for some of the most important religious gatherings. People are allowed to sing at karaoke bars and concerts but only five people can sing carols in a church. It doesn’t make sense,” said McKay.

A fair go at Christmas

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has repeatedly called on the state government to ease the inconsistent restrictions on religious observances – especially in the lead up to Christmas season.

“We’re really just asking for a fair go at Christmas, especially given the absence of community transmission of COVID-19 for some weeks now in NSW,“ said the Archbishop.

The Madonna and Child appeared in the final segment of the Lights of Christmas display at St Mary’s Cathedral in 2018. Christmas, for many Australians is not just a time to eat and drink but also a time to congregate at places of worship and celebrate their spirituality- a reality seemingly ignored Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“People are rightly asking, if you can have tens of thousands of spectators at a Grand Final to cheer their team on, then why can’t you have more than 500 gather for religious purposes?”

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has been speaking out against the unfair restrictions placed on his flock – especially in the lead up to Christmas and the near-eradication of COVID-19 in the state

Religious leaders representing a diverse range of faith backgrounds -Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist etc-  wrote to chief health officer Kerry Chant and other government ministers in late November asking for worship capacity increased to allow one person per two square metres indoors; similar COVID-19 rules for other small hospitality venues.

 

people of faith deserve an honest explanation for the unequal treatment

The religious leaders also commissioned a report from biosecurity and risk management expert David Heslop to argue treating places of worship differently to hospitality venues or concert halls is “not logical”. 

“If the risk posed by religious gatherings is no greater than the risk posed by gathering for entertainment or recreation, then people of faith deserve an honest explanation for the unequal treatment,” said Archbishop Fisher who lamented the neglect of spirituality in the Christmas season in lieu of an ersatz consumerism being no more apparent than in the unequal treatment of places of worship during one of the most sacred times of the year.

A crowded shopping centre is the norm during the Christmas season yet a crowded church is somehow subject to scrutiny despite the season being a religious festival Photo: Pixabay

I know our economic health is important, but so is our spiritual health. If you can have bigger crowds doing their Christmas shopping than you can have going to Christmas Mass, and with far fewer restrictions, then we have our priorities wrong.” 

We have our priorities wrong

The NSW Labor Opposition agreed – citing also the importance of emotional wellbeing for people of faith at the end of an otherwise traumatic year.  

“It’s been a challenging and difficult year and religious worship provides an anchor for many in times of adversity and isolation,” said Opposition Leader McKay.

“It is so important for families to come together in churches, mosques, temples and synagogues to reflect on the past twelve months. Getting people back to work is critical but we also need to support places of worship.”