Catholic officials and members of London’s Metropolitan Police Service pledged to “move forward in friendship” after a controversial forced ending of the Good Friday service at Christ the King Polish Catholic Church in the capital.
Police officers entered the church during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on April 2, threatening to fine the congregation if they didn’t immediately leave. Officers said COVID-19 regulations – which mandate social distancing and mask-wearing – weren’t being observed during the service. Parish officials insist all regulations governing religious services were followed.
The parish belongs to the Polish Catholic Mission for England and Wales, but is within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Southwark, which covers London south of the River Thames.
On April 11, Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark and Superintendent Roger Arditti and Detective Superintendent Andy Wadey of the Metropolitan Police Service visited Christ the King.
Wilson said he was “deeply saddened” by the Good Friday events and said Church officials and the police “all share the same desire to move forward in friendship, working together for the common good.”
“We are committed to enabling freedom of worship for everyone, in safe and secure environments,” the archbishop said.
Monsignor Władysław Wyszowadzki, the pastor of the Christ the King Mission, said the interruption of the Good Friday liturgy was “very painful for our parish community,” but said the community was willing to extend their hands to the police “in order to further build a deep and lasting relationship between us, based on mutual respect and regard for the rights of worshippers to freely practice their faith.”
Wadey said there had been “significant reflection and learning” by members of the Metropolitan Police Service after the Good Friday incident.
“The last year has been terrifically difficult for everyone in London. The pandemic has caused significant challenges for us all, and we have all had to live our lives differently,” the police officer said.
“The restrictions have been challenging for everyone, including faith communities, and also on occasions for the [police force] as we seek to keep people safe. The [Metropolitan Police Service] is a community-based policing service, and we are proud to serve all the communities of London, including all of you here and the wider Catholic and Polish communities,” Wadey continued.
He added that the intention of the police officers on Good Friday was to protect and support communities in staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know, however, that many people were very upset by what happened on Good Friday and we deeply regret that,” he said.
“The Metropolitan Police truly wishes to serve and protect you in the best possible way. I truly hope that today marks the start of a renewed deep and lasting relationship,” Wadey said.
In a message read to the congregation, Monsignor Stefan Wylężek, the Vicar Delegate of the Polish Catholic Mission for England and Wales, related the events to the Gospel stories of Good Friday and Divine Mercy Sunday.
“When Jesus came to his disciples in the evening of the day when He rose from the dead, He gave them two gifts: The gift of peace and the power to forgive sins. He did not rebuke them for their little faith, nor did He lecture them about how they should have conducted themselves during His agony and passion. He embraced them with His love, shocked and bruised as they were following the events of Good Friday. He embraces us today with that same love. Just as the Apostles moved on from their grief, so should we rise above the heartache. We need to be healed,” Wylężek said.
Unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, England didn’t order the suspension of public worship during the coronavirus lockdown that began in January. On April 12, non-essential shops and other facilities were allowed to reopen, in the most significant step in easing lockdown restrictions this year.