Following the news that capacity in churches will be significantly reduced in certain areas based on the Cluster Action Initiative, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced on Thursday, Oct. 8 that it is suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo for violation of religious freedom.
The Diocese claims that before the churches reopened on July 5 for weekend Masses, after being closed for Mass for 16 weeks, it worked with former New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito to develop a safe reopening plan for all churches to keep the faithful safe from the effects of the virus.
“Our churches have the capacity to accommodate many worshippers and to reset our attendance capacity to 10 people maximum in the red zone, and 25 people in the orange zone, when we have had no significant cases, impedes our right to worship and cannot stand,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said. “The State has completely disregarded the fact that our safety protocols have worked, and it is an insult to once again penalize all those who have made the safe return to Church work.”
Several Brooklyn churches, such as St. Athanasius Catholic Academy, 6115 Bay Pkwy., fall under the red zone; while Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 526 59th St., falls under the orange zone.
Attorney Randy M. Mastro will represent the DOB in the case.
“If this latest executive order stands, parishioners won’t be able to go to Mass this Sunday, even though the Diocese has done everything right to ensure safe conditions in its churches,” he said. “Thus, this religious community will be denied its most fundamental right — the free exercise of religion — for no legitimate reason whatsoever.”
DOB churches reopened for private prayer and devotion starting Tuesday, May 26. Mass started again on Monday, June 29.
The Diocese claims the measures it has taken to keep churches safe should be enough for the state to allow larger capacities for all Brooklyn churches.
These practices include wearing masks during Mass; sitting 6 feet apart, with a row roped off in between the seats; and standing 6 feet apart on the communion line. Pastors have also installed hand sanitizers at the entrances.
“We vehemently disagree with the capacity limits being placed on us,” added DiMarzio. “They are disrespectful to Catholics who have only been abiding by the rules. We do not agree with such limitations because they completely disregard the fact that our safety protocols have worked.”
According to Cuomo, safety comes first. He argues that rules weren’t enforced in cluster areas.
“At one time, we had rules that closed down houses of worship,” he said during his press conference on Thursday, Oct. 8. “Synagogues, churches, mosques, et cetera. Closing down is more dramatic than the current rule. Why are they so upset about the current rule when there was a previous rule that was more dramatic? Because the previous rules were never enforced, that’s why.”