Catholic Commentator Brands London Police Raid on Church a ‘Chilling Attack on Freedom of Religion’

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Christians sit apart socially distanced during an Easter Sunday service at Christ the King church on April 4, 2021 in the Balham area of London, England. The church had its Good Friday service interrupted by police who said the church had violated Covid-19 rules on …
Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

British Catholic commentator Caroline Farrow has condemned London police for twice raiding a Polish church over Easter as a “chilling attack on freedom of religion”.

In video that went viral on social media over the weekend, footage from inside the Christ the King Polish Roman Catholic Church showed Metropolitan Police Service officers shutting down a Good Friday service, threatening congregants with £200 fines if they did not leave.

The church maintained that it was following government coronavirus guidance, but police turned up at the Balham, London, church again on Easter Sunday, only this time to leave without issuing fines or dispersal orders.

Speaking to talkRADIO on Monday, Catholic commentator Caroline Farrow called the incidents “very, very chilling” and an “attack on freedom of religion”.

“This is an assault on religious freedom. This is a basic human right that everybody has. If your religion requires you to go to church, which Catholicism does, and you’re not allowed to do that, then that is your religious freedom being impinged upon. There’s no two ways about it,” Mrs Farrow said.

“The fact that there has been no apology from the Metropolitan Police is also quite disturbing,” Farrow said, adding that she believed it appeared the second visit was the police trying to find infractions in order to justify shutting down the Good Friday service, calling it the “mark of someone very defensive”.

“They’ve been caught out… There’s no humility there. It’s them absolutely doubling down on their perceived power and authoritarianism,” she said.

As well as accusing London police of failing to understand the law on what is allowed under coronavirus regulations, she criticised their “religious ignorance” and their “crass, ignorant, and insensitive act” of standing on the sanctuary, which, Farrow explained, “is a really sacred, holy place. You don’t just have people wandering on and off it.”

Congregants speaking to media earlier this week likewise expressed upset that the police had disrespected their place of worship.

Reports earlier this week revealed that the church’s rector Stefan Wylężek intends to contact the police over how the situation was handled and that the Catholic Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark has given the church his support.

“We do have to stand up to this kind of draconian authoritarianism. It’s a chilling attack on freedom of religion, and it’s good to see that the Catholic church aren’t going to tolerate it,” Farrow said, adding: “And particularly for the Polish Catholics. Polish Catholics have got a real history of persecution and suppression, so to do this is just so ignorant.”

Elsewhere in the British Isles, there have been allegations that police have sought to crack down on worshippers attending Holy Week services.

The Irish Times reported last week that police in the Republic of Ireland had set up three checkpoints close to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Mullahoran, County Cavan, on Palm Sunday, with parishioners claiming officers were trying to stop them from attending mass, calling them virus-spreaders.

Footage widely shared over the weekend showed Polish-born pastor Artur Pawlowski eject six police and officials from his church in Alberta, Canada, calling the government agents “Gestapo Nazi communist fascists” and “psychopaths”.

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