It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday if there were any positive tests in the community before the parish was shut down Dec. 7. On Dec. 9 a note to the parish from a parish leader said Tolentino and another cleric were in quarantine.
Archdiocesan spokeswoman Paula Grant Wednesday told the Post there is “no reason to believe there was any spread of the virus connected to celebration of the Mass,” that Tolentino has fully recovered and the county health department gave permission for St. Michael’s to reopen Thursday.
The archdiocese includes the District and suburban Maryland.
With coronavirus infections in the region climbing, the city last month tightened restrictions on indoor gatherings. Since then, houses of worship, no matter the size, are allowed to hold 50 people maximum, or be at 50 percent capacity — whatever is smaller. The motion asks that the 50-person cap be struck down, leaving the 50 percent capacity limit in place.
To get the legal issues resolved before Christmas, the motion asks the District Court to decide by Friday. It was filed by the archdiocese’s lawyers, from the nonprofit religious liberty group, Becket. The urgent motion asks the judge at least for a temporary restraining order — which stays in effect for a short time as the case proceeds — or for a preliminary injunction, which lasts until the case is completely resolved. The judge may make a narrow ruling for only a specific time period and only applicable to the archdiocese, or could rule on the city’s rules more broadly.
The archdiocese filed a lawsuit on Friday against Bowser (D) and the city over the District’s coronavirus attendance limits, saying they are “chilling” and harm hundreds of thousands of Catholics as Christmas approaches.
That complaint says one argument against the attendance cap in D.C. is that parishes in nearby Maryland and Virginia have met without caps.
“Plaintiff’s churches have safely celebrated thousands of Masses with more than 50 people over many months — in dense population centers bordering the District — without a single outbreak traced to any Mass,” the motion says.
The lawsuit, and now the temporary restraining order request, say the city’s coronavirus restrictions on houses of worship are especially strict, violate Catholics’ right to worship, and go beyond what is necessary or in the city’s interest when it comes to fighting the spread of the virus.
“There are lots of other things going on rightly that are subject only to capacity percentage and it doesn’t make sense to say you can’t do religious worship,” Mark Rienzi, Becket’s president, told the Post Tuesday. “There are a lot of people who do want to go to church, especially in a hard year, and the Church wants to make itself available. There is no good reason why not.”
Messages left for two city spokespeople were not returned.
This is the second time a D.C. faith group has gone to court over coronavirus restrictions. A D.C. federal court in October granted permission sought by Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a large evangelical congregation, to meet outside. At the time the city banned church services of more than 100 people, indoors or out. A few days after the ruling, the city said it would no longer enforce the restriction on outdoor worship and later dropped it entirely.