The threat of COVID-19 spreading is one that is very real. In some parts of Brooklyn and Queens, there has been a rise in the number of cases. We, as responsible good citizens of New York City, need to do everything that is humanly possible to prevent the further rise of infections in our area.
Few public entities in our city have been as diligent about preventing the spread of the coronavirus than the Roman Catholic churches throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Since their reopening at the end of June, the diocese doesn’t know of any infections linked to a parish.
So, when the order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo reduced certain neighborhoods into colored zones which limited, to an unreasonable amount, the number of people who could worship in a parish church and sent Catholic schools and academies to online learning, many in the Diocese were more than upset. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio stated: “It is outrageous that after incurring great expense to implement all the safety protocols, our parishes are being forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people in the red zone and 25 people in the orange zone.
“The facts show that Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens are safe and have followed all safety guidelines.”
The veracity of the Bishop’s statement has been backed up by facts. Rates of infection that have come from Catholic parishes and schools are minimal compared to many other mass gatherings. With this in mind, the Diocese filed a lawsuit in federal court against the State of New York, on the basis of the violation of their fundamental First Amendment right, the free exercise of religion.
Unfortunately, Judge Eric Komitee ruled against the Diocese of Brooklyn, but he admitted that Cuomo’s order was written to “target a different set of religious institutions” and the Brooklyn Diocese “appears to have been swept up in that effort despite being mostly spared, so far at least, the problems at hand.”
Bishop DiMarzio stated in response: “We are disappointed by last night’s initial ruling, but this is only the beginning of the case, and we expect ultimately to prevail. … (W)e are seeking what is just. And we have kept parishioners safe and will continue to do so. Thus, there is no reason for this latest interference with our First Amendment right to celebrate Mass together, so we will continue to press the courts and our elected officials to end it as soon as possible. We are left with no choice but, for now, to abide by the new restrictions that limit Mass attendance to 10 people in the red zones and 25 in the orange zones. But we will continue to fight to vindicate our fundamental constitutional rights, and we will continue to be a model for safety in our religious community. And by doing right and being right, we will prevail.”
If the churches of the Diocese of Brooklyn were not already taking diligent care, the new restrictions could be viewed as prudent. But this is simply not the case. Judge Komitee only heard the case on an emergency basis — Judge Nicholas Garaufis was supposed to preside over the hearing. After the decision, the diocese’s attorney wrote a letter seeking a new hearing. It was granted by Judge Garaufis and scheduled for Oct 15.
In a city that is already suffering enough in this year of chaos, the Catholic Church remains one of the beacons of hope, health, and holiness in New York. Let Mr. Cuomo know that as Catholics, “Without the Eucharist, we cannot live,” as the “Martyrs of Abitinae,” (303 AD), boldly proclaimed!