Buffalo Diocese reacts to Supreme Court ruling on religious gatherings

"We welcome this decision""
The Buffalo Diocese welcomes a ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of the Brooklyn Diocese vs. Governor Andrew Cuomo
Apostolic Administrator Edward B. Scharfenberger during an in-studio appearance earlier this year at WBEN Photo credit WBEN

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) "We welcome this decision." Apostolic Administrator Edward Scharfenberger reacting on Thanksgiving morning to the 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. vs. Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York.

The ruling pertains to the state's ability to restrict capacity in houses of worship.
The high court sided with religious groups over Covid restrictions, put in place by Governor Cuomo, limiting the number of people attending religious services.

The restrictions on attendance were divided up by geographic zones in areas classified as "red" or "orange" zones. New York had capped attendance at 10 and 25 people, respectively.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to protect one another from the threat that the coronavirus poses," said Scharfenberger. "At the same time, we welcome this decision that upholds the First Amendment’s ‘free exercise’ clause. Food and drink for the soul are as essential as food and drink for the stomach.”

The court's action could push New York to reevaluate those restrictions, but it won't have any immediate impact since the two groups that sued as a result of the restrictions, the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens, are no longer subject to them.

Governor Andrew Cuomo reacted to the ruling during a Thanksgiving day briefing.

Houses of worship in an orange zone in Erie County are restricted to 33% capacity or a maximum of 25 people.

In keeping with the Buffalo Diocese’s priority to mitigate risk of infection and protect those most vulnerable, Scharfenberger said parishes must continue to:

* Follow all CDC guidelines and advice of medical professionals, including continuing to observe six foot physical distance
* Continue to require the use of face masks at all liturgies and follow other well-established diocesan policies for the celebration of Masses.

According to the Buffalo Diocese, individual parish capacity will be determined by the size of the worship space and the required social distance requirements. The dispensation regarding the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and other Days of Holy Obligation is still effect. Those wishing to attend liturgy in person are obligated to maintain six feet social distance from others while in attendance.

The Diocese’s guidelines for parishes can be found here.