New York (AP) – The longtime head of the Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn said Friday that a Supreme Court ruling banning New York from imposing certain restrictions on religious services in areas heavily affected by the coronavirus is a “good solution” that guarantees constitutional protection for the free practice of religion.
Late Wednesday, the Supreme Court sided with the Diocese of Brooklyn and other religious organizations in New York State, temporarily banning New York from imposing restrictions on groups. In an unsigned statement, the Supreme Court said the restrictions “set aside prayer houses for particularly harsh treatment.”
“At the moment, we see this as a good solution, opening up the understanding that First Amendment rights are much more powerful than someone’s right to shop,” Bishop Nicolas DiMarzio said in an interview with the Associated Press.
DiMarzio also praised the words of Pope Francis, who in a New York Times Opinion article published on Thursday criticized groups protesting against the restrictions on COVID-19.
“I think the pope’s words are wonderful. I don’t think we protested. I do not think that we have ever denied the rules that have been imposed on us, except that we have had a different opinion about the number of people who can enter a building. “It’s a big difference from showing off the rules, as some congregations in Brooklyn and Queens have done,” he told the AP. “They refused to take precautions. This was not our case. We complied with everything they asked us to do, and not only that. ”
“So, I think that’s a big difference. I do not think that these words of the Pope really apply to us – this is not an ideological issue. This is not anti-government, but it considers the First Amendment that people have the right to worship whenever possible. “
New York became an early U.S. hotspot for the pandemic and the deadliest, with some of the city’s worst affected areas concentrated in Brooklyn and Queens.
The American Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudat Israel has churches and synagogues in the areas of the two areas previously designated as red and orange zones. The state had limited attendance at prayer houses to 10 people in red zones and 25 people in orange zones. But these areas are now defined as yellow areas with less restrictive rules, nor is the group contested.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the court’s decision was “irrelevant of any practical impact” as the restrictions had already been lifted. Cuomo also said the 5-4 decision, with new judge Amy Connie Barrett for the most part, is more to demonstrate that the Supreme Court has changed its stripes. But DiMarzio disagreed.
“(Cuomo) said the court changed its decision because it is politically convenient and has nothing to do with it,” DiMarzio said. “The Supreme Court has changed its position many times.”
Churches under the Diocese of Brooklyn were disproportionately affected and suffered many losses at the start of the pandemic. The Rev. Jorge Ortiz-Garey, pastor of St. Brigid Church in Brooklyn, was the first Catholic clergyman in the United States to die of the coronavirus.. By July, St. Bartholomew’s Roman Catholic Church in Queens had announced that at least 74 parishioners had died of COVID-19..
DiMarzio said Ortiz-Garay and the Rev. Gioacchino Basile, a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark who served as pastor of St. Gabriel’s Church in East Elmhurst, became infected with the virus before rules were issued on how to protect against the pandemic.
“So you shouldn’t watch this. Subsequently, with the idea of St. Bartholomew, for example: This does not mean that they fell ill in the church. That means they got sick. “
DiMarzio said he closed the churches 10 days before the governor’s order and postponed the opening for a week after the order was revoked in July. “So, I think we were too careful …” he said. A spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese said St. Bartholomew had not reported any new deaths since July, according to the church’s pastor.
The 18-point precautionary measures in churches in Brooklyn and Queens under the jurisdiction of the diocese include regular church renovations, asking everyone to wear a mask for the entire liturgy, and maintaining social distancing. The clergy must also sanitize their hands before the liturgy, while the congregants cannot exchange peace or hold hands during the reading of the Lord’s Prayer, and Holy Communion must be given in hand. DiMarzio also said that all Messi is broadcast live and personal services are limited to about 50% capacity.
“Look, we were the epicenter at the beginning of this. Now. We are the best. From the worst, we became the best because of the restrictions and the way people followed them, “he said, calling the rules issued by Cuomo clearly restrictive.
“Ten to 25 people in churches that house 500 and 1,000 people, that’s the point, because we were defined as insignificant. So, we were set up with theaters and bowling alleys and other things that were entertaining, not something that was as essential as a church. “
DiMarzio expects the Christmas season to be challenging, but essential for believers after a long pandemic.
“People want to go to Mass at Christmas. Children need to see Christmas and play it, sometimes in different churches. So we are trying to prepare for it safely again, “he said.
Religious coverage of the Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Foundation through the Religion News Foundation. AP is solely responsible for this content.