coronavirus

Churches Empty, But Streets Are Full

Alice Claus prays the rosary at St. Kevin Church in the Flushing section of the New York City borough of Queens May 26, 2020, the first day the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., permitted its churches to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

By Christopher White, National Correspondent

MANHATTAN — While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may believe there’s no comparison between reopening houses of worship and allowing for mass protests, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, rector of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights, strongly disagrees and says the time to reopen churches is now.

Last week, the mayor was asked why he allowed for protests against police brutality and for racial justice and insisted on churches to remain limited in their services due to COVID-19 restrictions.

He told reporters that “when you see a nation, an entire nation simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as to the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services.”

“I don’t think he gets to make that decision,” said Msgr. Harrington, who is also the president and chairman of DeSales Media Group, the parent company of The Tablet, adding that the Constitution is the ultimate referendum on that, not the mayor.

In an interview with The Tablet, Msgr. Harrington said he watched the almost nine-minute long video of a police officer kneeling on George Floyd, an unarmed black man, with “outrage.”

“It was appalling to watch the life drain out of him,” said Msgr. Harrington.

Since then, mass protests have taken place throughout the country with calls for a national reckoning over systemic racial injustices. City officials have allowed them to take place while, at the same time, expecting religious institutions to adhere to strict social distancing measures and limiting the number of individuals that can attend services, something Msgr. Harrington believes is a double standard.

“My wanting to open the churches does not mean I’m not supportive of what they’re protesting against. I want to open the church precisely because I believe black lives matter,” said Msgr. Harrington, noting that many people see prayer and Mass as especially urgent in light of rising national tensions. “For me, the act of prayer is an act greater than political protest. It’s why I became a priest.”

Msgr. Harrington believes many Catholics feel similarly to him and he’s encouraging them to call 311, the city’s information and complaint line, to voice such concerns to the mayor.

“This is about the right to assemble and the right to worship,” Msgr. Harrington said. “God is being ignored by public officials, just because they may not be people of faith and feel the same need to return to Church.”

He went on to fault political leaders of both parties for “fomenting political divisions” in the country by not respecting people of faith and viewing their demands to return to church with the same sense of urgency.

Msgr. Harrington pointed to the mayor’s decision in April to send in NYPD officials to break up a crowd of an estimated 2,000 Orthodox Jews at a funeral for a rabbi who had died of the coronavirus but then allowed thousands of people to “stand shoulder to shoulder” in Brooklyn over the last week.

“What was the difference between the scenes in Williamsburg [with the Hasidic community] and that of what was taking place in Cadman Plaza?,” asked Msgr. Harrington, saying in his view, the mayor is willing to allow one group to continue their large gatherings because it aligns with a national political movement that de Blasio supports.

The press office for the Mayor of the City of New York did not respond to The Tablet’s
request for comment.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said he understands Msgr. Harrington’s position. “It is painful for one to be cut off from the rituals and sacraments of one’s religious faith,” Rabbi Hirschfeld told The Tablet. “There is a deep hunger to return. I can sympathize with that feeling.”

Msgr. Harrington also faulted the mayor and the governor for blanket policies allowing only a limited number of individuals to be in a church at a particular time.

“The situation at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in Brooklyn or that of St. Patrick’s is a lot different than a storefront church,” Msgr. Harrington said. “If people are going to be allowed to continue to protest, they also have a right to continue to enter a church and pray.”

“I want the mayor or the governor to explain the difference,” he said.

To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.

13 thoughts on “Churches Empty, But Streets Are Full

  1. GOD BLESS YOU MSGR HARRINGTON. YOU SAID IT IN A NUTSHELL GOV CUOMO AND MAYOR DEBLASIO SANCTION THOUSANDS SHOULDER TO SHOULDER IN PROTEST BUT PREVENT CATHOLICS FROM ATTENDING MASS, RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION AND HAVE ACCESS TO THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH. FINALLY, SOMEONE SPEAKING UP FOR CATHOLICS. WHO DESPERATELY YEARN FOR MASS AND EUCHARIST. WOULD THAT THE CATHOLIC HIERARCHY IN NY AND BROOKLYN WOULD MUSTER THE COURAGE AND FAITH TO DO THE SAME.

  2. Kudos to Msgr. Harrington; his opinions are valid. We, of all faiths, should blanket 311 with urgent requests for houses of worship to be reopened at once.

  3. A very well-reasoned argument. There is absolutely no reason why houses of worship cannot reopen their doors to congregants and manage the health concerns of the community. Large houses of worship can easily sit worshippers in every other pew, six feet apart, while wearing masks. Smaller houses of worship can offer more daily services with fewer people. But this is not about the health of worshippers or who they interact with.

  4. La mentablentes creo que muchos líderes Demócratas no creen en Dios, abren todos menos los templos Cristianos Católicos, por eso yo no voto Demócratas

  5. I completely agree with Msgr. Harrington!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let us return to where God wants us to be. The political logic is void of any common sense.

  6. There is a big difference between gathering in enclosed places and gathering outdoors. While gathering in either place without the proper protective gear is risky, one is safer outdoors.

  7. Could not agree more. Had a friend who passed away on March 31,2020 and he could not have a funeral service. I am not condoning by any means what has happened over the past weeks but to allow protests and gatherings to go on but not allow us to go to mass does not make any sense. You are spot on when you say the world needs GOD and their religion now more than ever. Saturday on the great Feast day of St. Anthony the church will be empty while protests will probably be going on in SOHO.

  8. Agree 100 % with Msgr. Harrington. Thank you for speaking out on behalf of all Catholics that are faithfully waiting to attend the mass and receive communion. God bless!

  9. It’s the liberal left’s attack on religion. Why are we even asking? Open the churches, period. 100% capacity. If thousands can protest and riot, a few hundred can worship at Mass.

  10. I agree different parishes will have different ways to go about having Mass again and should be allowed to do so. Also if outdoors is safer, maybe have an outdoor Mass if the church has the resources and space.

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