NEW YORK (AP) – The longtime leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn said Friday that a Supreme Court ruling that prevented New York from enforcing certain restrictions on religious services in areas hard hit by coronavirus is a “good decision”, which guarantees constitutional protection for the free exercise of religion.
The district court late Wednesday sided with the Diocese of Brooklyn and other religious organizations in the state of New York by temporarily preventing New York from enforcing restrictions on the groups. In an unsigned statement, the Supreme Court said the restrictions “designate houses of worship for particularly harsh treatment.”
“Right now, we see this as a good decision that opens up the understanding that the rights to first amendment are much more powerful than the right to act,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in an interview with the Associated Press.
DiMarzio also praised the words of Pope Francis, who in a New York Times statement published on Thursday criticized groups protesting COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think the pope’s words are wonderful. I do not think we protested. I do not think we have ever ignored the rules imposed on us, except that we had a different view of the number of people who could enter a building. It is a big difference from fluttering the rules that some congregations have done in Brooklyn and Queens, ”he told the AP. “They refused to take any action. That was not our case. We complied with everything we were asked to do and more. ”
“So I think it’s a big difference. I do not think these words of the Pope really apply to us – this is not an ideological issue. It is not anti-government, but it looks at the first amendment that people have the right to worship whenever possible. ”
New York City became an early American hotspot for the pandemic and the deadliest with some of the city’s hardest hit areas concentrated in Brooklyn and Queens.
Founded Brooklyn and Agudath Israel in America have churches and synagogues in areas of the two boroughs previously designated red and orange zones. The state had limited the presence of houses of worship by 10 people in red zones and 25 people to orange zones. But these areas are now designated as yellow zones with less restrictive rules that no group challenged.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the court’s ruling is “irrelevant to any practical impact” given that the restrictions have already been lifted. Cuomo also said the 5-4 ruling with the new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority is more about demonstrating that the Supreme Court has changed streaks. But DiMarzio disagreed.
“(Cuomo) said the court changed its decision because it is politically practical, it has nothing to do with it,” DiMarzio said. “The Supreme Court changes its position many times.”
Churches under the Diocese of Brooklyn were disproportionately affected and suffered heavy losses at the onset of the pandemic. The pastor Jorge Ortiz-Garay, the pastor of St. Brigid Church in Brooklyn, was the first Catholic clergyman in the United States to die of coronavirus. In July, the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Bartholomew in Queens reported that at least 74 parishioners had died of COVID-19..
DiMarzio said Ortiz-Garay and pastor Gioacchino Basile, a pastor of the Archdiocese of Newark who served as pastor at Saint Gabriel Church in East Elmhurst, contracted the virus before rules were issued on how to protect against the pandemic.
“So you should not look at it. Subsequently with the idea of St. Bartholomew, for example: That does not mean they became ill in church. That means they got sick. ”
DiMarzio said he closed the churches down ten days before an order from the governor and delayed opening a week after the order was lifted in July. “So I think we’ve been too careful …” he said. A spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn said St. Bartholomew has not reported any new deaths since July, according to the church pastor.
The 18-point precautions at churches in Brooklyn and Queens under the jurisdiction of the diocese include regularly disinfecting churches and asking everyone to wear a mask throughout the Mass and keep social distance. Priest members must also disinfect their hands before Mass, while ward partners cannot exchange peace or hold hands during the recitation of Lord’s Prayer, and Holy Communion must be given by hand. DiMarzio also said that all fairs are live streamed and personal services are limited to approx. 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 limitations and the way people followed them, ”he said, calling the rules issued by Cuomo overtly restrictive.
“Ten people to 25 people in churches that accommodate 500 and 1,000 people, that’s the crux of the matter because we were designated as non-essential. So we were put up with theaters and bowling alleys and other things that were recreational and not with something that was important as a church. ”
DiMarzio expects the Christmas season to be challenging but crucial for believers after a long pandemic.
“People want to go to Mass at Christmas. The children need to see the birthday and perform it, sometimes in different churches. So we are trying to prepare for it safely again, ”he said.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. AP is solely responsible for this content.