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Indian priests told not to violate pandemic restrictions

Call comes after a Catholic priest and 23 others were arrested for celebrating Mass in Kerala

Indian priests told not to violate pandemic restrictions

Indian commuters pedal past an art installation adorned with a face mask to raise awareness about Covid-19 safety protocols in Kolkata on June 2. (Photo: AFP)

A Catholic official in India's Kerala state has asked priests not to create scandals after a priest and 23 others were arrested for celebrating Mass in a parish in violation of government Covid-19 restrictions.

Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council’s deputy secretary-general Father Jacob Palackapilly said priests should adhere to all government protocols and restrictions to join the efforts to contain the pandemic’s spread.

“We have already issued guidelines and alerted our priests against such violations as it would send wrong messages to the society,” Father Palackapilly told UCA News on June 2.

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While many priests and nuns are risking their lives to help people in this pandemic, all should refrain from practices that violate government norms, he said.

He was commenting on police arresting Father George Palamattam, priest of a parish church in Irinjalakkuda, along with 23 parishioners after they participated in a Eucharistic celebration.

Their May 31 Mass was to celebrate the first Holy Communion of three children, but it disregarded a government ban on gatherings and all public religious celebrations.

Police charged those arrested on May 31 under the Kerala Epidemic Disease Ordinance, 2020

The violation was the latest in a series of such incidents in which Christian priests, including Catholics, were accused of breaking lockdown rules and protocols meant to check the spread of the disease.

The second wave of Covid-19 began to hit Kerala hard in April and the government on May 8 imposed a lockdown banning all gatherings and permitting fewer than 15 people for burials.

Daily new cases in the southern state peaked at more than 35,000 in mid-May and it continues to report some 20,000 new cases daily.

Police charged those arrested on May 31 under the Kerala Epidemic Disease Ordinance, 2020. They were released later on bail from the police station as their charges do not require them to be presented in court.

The parish priest was reportedly obliging to the insistence from some parishioners to hold Mass to help some migrant relatives who had come home for holidays to attend Mass before they returned abroad.

Father Palackapilly said such incidents are isolated “but no doubt are scandals to the Christian community.”

Riju Kanjookaran, a Catholic leader based in Kerala, said Catholics should not press priests to hold religious gatherings violating government directives.

“People also should understand such gatherings could become fatal as many people are dying as the death rates are higher in the second wave,” Kanjookaran told UCA News on June 2.

In a similar incident, police registered a case against Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam of the Church of South India and close to 400 of his priests on May 5 for violating restrictions and organizing a retreat in a hill station.

The news of the April 13-17 retreat hit headlines after two priests who attended it died of Covid-19 and several other participants contracted the infection. Two more priests died later in the month.

In April 2020, Catholic Augustine Palayil and six others were arrested for conducting prayers

The deaths followed a police probe which established the gathering violated Covid-19 protocols. A case was registered against the organizers.

In April 2020, Catholic Augustine Palayil and six others were arrested for conducting prayers defying Covid-19 protocols when they held a Mass in Ernakulam district.

In a similar incident in March 2020, police arrested Father Pauly Padayatti for offering Mass with some 100 people, also in Ernakulam district.

Police also arrested seven people, including two Catholic priests and three nuns, after they celebrated Sunday Mass, defying prohibitory orders in the Wayanad district.

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