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Brooklyn bishop: ‘Outrageous’ NY coronavirus restrictions ignore church successes

“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,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said Oct. 5.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., delivers his homily during Mass June 16, 2019, at St. Athanasius Church in Brooklyn. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

CNA Staff, Oct 7, 2020 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Brooklyn has strongly criticized the re-imposition of strict coronavirus rules on places of worship in New York City-area hot zones, saying Catholic churches have worked hard to prevent coronavirus spread and Catholics deserve access to their churches.

“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,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said Oct. 5, using the color codes for the restriction categories.

“To think that some of our churches have the capacity to hold a thousand people for Mass, a capacity range of 10 to 25 people is disrespectful to Catholics and to the clergy who all have followed the rules and, as such, have prevented a spike in Covid cases within the confines of the hot zones,” he said, adding, “The safety of parishioners is paramount for the Diocese of Brooklyn, but the religious freedom of our parishioners is being unjustly attacked. The facts show that Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens are safe and have followed all safety guidelines.”

The new restrictions have three sets of rules for gatherings based on severity of coronavirus spread. The color-coded zones are labeled, in order of severity, red, orange, and yellow.

In a red zone, houses of worship gatherings are limited to 25% capacity or 10 people maximum. In a yellow zone, they are limited to 50% capacity. Neither schools nor businesses deemed non-essential will be allowed to operate in a red zone.

DiMarzo made the case that Catholic churches have taken all reasonable precautions and have a record of safety.

“Catholic Churches in Brooklyn and Queens have not had any COVID outbreaks or significant cases since re-opening on July 5th to 25% capacity. We fervently object to being told to further reduce capacity, because we have strictly adhered to COVID-19 protocols, and the safety measures have been working,” he said.

“Our congregants have fully cooperated with the mask requirement and have been sitting six feet apart with a row in between,” the bishop said. “Catholic churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn are regularly sanitized, and hand sanitizers are set up at all entrances. Former New York City Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito guided us on our Reopening Plans and the subsequent safe re-opening of our churches.”

Esposito told the diocesan newspaper The Tablet he was also critical of the new rules.

“It’s ridiculous. It absolutely makes no sense,” he said.

Esposito’s committee guided the diocese’s rules to limit church seating to 25%, mandate face masks use, and adhere to social distancing protocols.

“We go out of our way to make sure it is safe. The churches have been doing the right thing. We are being punished for our hard work,” Esposito told The Tablet. “And why this is being done by ZIP code makes no sense. What if you live in one neighborhood and go to church in another?”

There are some 1.5 million Roman Catholics and 210 Roman Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens.

The disease arrived especially hard in New York, which has seen 32,000 fatalities and peaked at more than 1,000 deaths per day in early April. Nationwide, about 7.5 million people have been infected, with 210,000 dead.

While most people who contract the coronavirus do not require hospitalization, it can pose significant risks for the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the stricter rules were necessary to contain outbreaks. He said that failure to enforce existing laws had led to the renewed spike. He blamed localities for not enforcing social distancing rules and mask mandates.

“If you do not agree to follow the rules, then we will close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that,” he said at an Oct. 6 news conference.

“This is about mass gatherings,” he said. “And one of the prime places of mass gatherings are houses of worship.”

“A mass gathering causes infections, infections cause a cluster, a cluster causes community spread, Cuomo added. “That is the natural evolution of things unless we intervene and we stop the cycle.”

The resumption of restrictions on houses of worship was a surprise to religious leaders, the New York Times reports.

“All of this seems very poorly executed, the decision and the communication, all of it,” Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, told the New York Times.

Religious leaders said they were not consulted about the measures, which take effect Oct. 9; at sunset that day the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret begins.

Recent coronavirus outbreaks have taken place in Brooklyn, Queens, and the northern suburbs of New York City, and some of these areas have large Orthodox Jewish populations.

Cuomo has specifically used photos of packed crowds of Orthodox Jews to argue for the restrictions.

A group of four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers accused the governor of “irresponsible and pejorative rhetoric,” including using a photograph of Jews from more than 10 years ago during his news conference. They accused the governor of lying about the scope of the lockdown measures during a conference call, saying he had engaged in “a duplicitous bait-and-switch.”

Hundreds of Hasidic men gathered in protest after midnight early Oct. 7 in the Borough Park neighborhood, the New York Times reports. Most of them rejected masks and set fires along the street. At least one man was swarmed by a mob which accused him of disloyalty to the community.

New York state’s first cluster of infections took place in March at a synagogue in New Rochelle, where dozens of members became infected. In recent months some Orthodox synagogues have been venues for large gatherings of people who do not take precautions against the virus.

Father William With, pastor of Resurrection Church in the Gerritsen Beach neighborhood, told The Tablet that sacramental celebrations are “so important” and “it is essential that we stay open.” Parishioners are only “just starting to come back,” he added.

“We have not fully recovered. They are coming back slowly but surely. It would be a bad sign for our people if we had to close now,” Fr. With said.

Schools in parts of Rockland and Orange counties will close under the rules. On Oct. 5 Cuomo ordered schools in nine zip codes of Brooklyn and Queens to close. Although these zip codes represent 7% of New York City’s population, they have accounted for more than 20% of new coronavirus infections in the last four weeks.

Catholics schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn have asked Cuomo to permit its four schools in the areas to continue in-person learning. With a combined enrollment of over 1,000 students, they have had one confirmed case of Covid-19.

Tom Chadzutko, superintendent of schools for the Brooklyn diocese, said Oct. 5 that the governor’s action “clearly fails to take into account the positive progress our Diocesan school system has made so far this school year.”

“It is unconscionable to think that after the many sacrifices our staff, students, and parents have made, and in spite of our almost non-existent infection rate, the governor has decided to force our four schools to close,” he said.

Some churches and other religious organizations have pursued legal action against coronavirus restrictions they say wrongly single out religious gatherings for strict treatment, compared to other gatherings or venues of similar size.

In June New York Mayor Bill de Blasio drew criticism for saying protests against racism and police brutality were essential, but religious services were not.

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  1. During the past 7 months DiMarzio, along with virtually every other bishop in this country, was enthusiastically closing and locking his churches, banning the Mass and the sacraments, emptying holy water fonts, compelling Communion in the hand, and demanding that every single new and “outrageous” state sanitary edict be instantly and fully obeyed. Is it any wonder that Stalinists in the 1930’s used to refer to such men as “useful idiots”?

  2. In churches, I don’t think I’ve seen a safer place. No hand touching each other, muted singing, cleanser that is taking the varnish off wooden pews. Social distancing abounds along with masks; much safer than your local department store and many emergency rooms.

    Do what they did in WISC – sue em’ there’s a WI firm with recent experience

  3. Enough is enough – FAR more than enough, and it’s good to see a Bishop finally standing up for us.

    T’would be interesting to hear what Cardinal Dolan and maybe even kindly old Uncle Joe have to say about this.

  4. Find it very baffling as to why use of air cleaners with UV – C light and HEPA filters to reduce indoor transmission is neglected almost completely .

    Vaccines might only do so much for a mutating virus where as the above measures could have long term impact on many other similar threats as well .

    Use of certain supplements , esp. Magnesium chloride as a topical solution , benign in almost all cases , yet likely to be good help in preventing various other illnesses as well and in reducing morbidity .

    Hope many who are older would esp. consider using above along with bit of extra zinc, Vit. C , D . etc : and churches could take initiative to help make same available as a work of charity in homeless shelters and feeding programs as well , cutting down on use of meat , instead making tasty, simple dishes such as lentil soup with enough garlic , onions , greens etc : too

    ? Lord telling us how so low we are in areas of light and salt !

    The hidden fruitfulness in the new encyclical addressing economic areas as well , may same help to bring the remedy as well !

  5. This is what we get when we keep voting Democrate or don’t bother to vote. The Dem’s & MS media refer to Trump as Hitler yet it’s Cuomo who is threatening religious institutions. Dr. King used peaceful civil disobedience to protest and we just roll over. It’s time we Catholics vote for candidates who protect religious liberty not for those who prevent us from exercising our God given right.

  6. Suspension of Religious Services wrong!
    The suspension once again of religious services is devastating news for Churchgoers, many of them elderly whose only outlet from ‘solitary confinement’ is their daily/weekly visit to church. To suggest that they should go On-line instead shows an insensitivity to the real needs of the elderly, many who have no access to computers – and whose real desire in any case is for human contact.
    The discipline of members coming to Church – adjusting to social distance, hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and complying with other mad excesses of some priests – is truly edifying. The response is far more disciplined than in any supermarkets, restaurants/pubs or football matches around.
    What Law-makers do not realise is that it is the prayers and entreaty of these Churchgoers that will ultimately bring about solutions to this virus. For, as the Psalmist puts it succinctly, “If God is not with the builder, in vain does the builder labour”.

  7. Too little too late from the Bishops.Sadly they took their cue from globalist Francis who supported the shut downs in Italy. Even the Romans couldnt shut us down. No, only our own Bishops. One day they will have to account to the Lord for it. This disease has been barely twice as bad as a regular flu season, for which we do NOTHING in terms of shutdowns and confinements.The survival rate exceeds 99%. What is the hysteria about? How does that side justify this hysteria, destruction of the economy, and destruction of our freedoms of assembly and religion? This is the concept of avoiding death at ANY price, and the price, clearly, is too high. The DEMs have seized power in the BLUE states and are not giving it up even with court decisions against them, witness Witmer in Michigan. Cuomo must the same. I recently came across the text of the old Baltimore Catechism. Right up front at question 7 is this: ” Of which must we take more care, our soul or our body?” Answer: We must take more care of our SOUL than of our body.” The answer to question 8 explains why: “Because in losing our soul we lose God and everlasting happiness.” The Bishops allowed the state to dictate the conditions under which the church could operate, throwing their sheep under the bus in a rush to obey Caesar. Even now they are asking PERMISSION to have more than 10 people in a church which seats 800??? In some places in California, people are being arrested for SiNGING during a service.This is suppression of our religious rights. Civil disobedience and mass protests are called for at this point, not polite tea chat. This is about the left destroying the church and church opposition to standard leftist immorality of all sorts. The Bishops walked away and LOCKED our churches with no argument, no negotiation, no deadline, NOTHING, and deprived people of their access to the sacraments. Even the dying were alone. Its SEVEN MONTHS now. When is enough , enough? When do the Bishops understand they have been made fools? I won’t even get into the inhumanity of the social isolation or its fatal effect in areas of addition, abuse, suicide, etc. At this point it is known the very elderly with co-morbidities have to be exceptionally careful. It is THEIR responsibility to make sound judgements about their risk. The rest of us however should be free to resume LIVING. Much of this power grab has been and is being conducted by Democrats. Its really true you CAN’T be a Catholic and vote Democrat.

  8. Cuomo is a cement-headed idiot, having killed 10,000 to 20,000 extra citizens by forcing nursing homes to receive COVID-positive patients, exposing the most vulnerable to death because of his ego-maniacal impulses combined with his stupidity.

    Now he is going after Jewish and Catholic people actually believe in God, and insist on their right to worship God, because Cuomo wants to shift blame for his mass homicides to others, and who better than religious people, whom he as a “practical atheist” utterly detests.

  9. Whatever Cuomo is or is not, because the churches (Catholic and other) folded nicely and complied with restrictions for so long, he is now fairly confident he can violate their rights whenever he feels like it, and, my guess is, in his perpetual power trip, he will violate them often. Bishops will continue to give lip service to the contrary, but, since they’ve been bending over for Cuomo since spring, a safe bet is they will continue to do so. The only way to get out of this situation? Get a governor that follows the Constitution, and/or get bishops who follow Catholic teaching. Right now the possibility of either happening oscillates between slim and none, so people have to push for both, assuming people want things to change, that is.

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