Police shut down Good Friday church service; threaten with fines, arrest

The Union Flag flies in front of the clock face of the Queen Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben, on April 2, 2019, in London, England. |

British police shut down a Good Friday service at a Roman Catholic church in London, alleging a breach of COVID-19 rules, and threatened to impose a $280 fine on each person sitting in the pews, according to media reports .

Calling the gathering ‘unlawful’, police broke up a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion service at the Polish Church of Christ the King in Balham, south London, on Friday night, according to Sky News, which reported that one of the police officers can be seen in footage telling the congregation that such a gathering was “unfortunately illegal under coronavirus regulations”.

“You’re not allowed to meet that many people indoors by law,” the officer continued. “Right now you have to go home. Failure to comply with this instruction to leave and return to your home could ultimately result in a £200 fine or, if you fail to provide your details, arrest. It’s Good Friday, and I appreciate you wanting to worship, but it’s illegal.

Churches are allowed to hold services without any limit on the number of worshipers during England’s lockdown, provided the congregation observes social distancing and wears masks, according to Britain’s Independent newspaper.

The newspaper quoted a Metropolitan Police spokesman as saying: “Officers showed up and found a large number of people inside the church. Some people weren’t wearing masks and those in attendance were clearly not socially distancing.

“We are particularly concerned about the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus following large indoor gatherings where people are not socially distanced and some are not wearing masks. As such, officers decided it was not safe for this particular service to continue.

“Understanding the sensitivity of the situation, the officers spoke to the priest outside the church and were invited inside to address the congregation. No fixed penalty notice was issued.

However, the church refuted the police department’s claims, saying in a statement that “congregants obeyed…without objection” when ordered by police to leave.

“We believe, however, that the police brutally overstepped their authority in issuing their warrant for no good reason, as all government requirements were met,” the church said.

“The latest government directives of March 26, 2021 and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales on the experience of Holy Week, clearly allow – with all the sanitary rules – to be celebrated in places of worship with the participation of the faithful.… We ask everyone to respect the current health requirements in the Church and the space of social life, and to pray that such situations do not recur.

Labor MP Rosena Allin-Khan described the incident as distressing.

“Being of Polish descent, I understand the sanctity of this day. Without a doubt, it was deeply distressing,” she said. “I have spoken with the Metropolitan Police and I am assured that the police is working with the priest and the wider community on this issue, with sessions at the church having resumed today.”