Catholics allowed to gather for priest ordination
Hundreds of people will be allowed to attend the ordination of four priests at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday, after NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard granted a temporary exemption from coronavirus restrictions.
The move came after NSW Health was accused of "double standards" for granting Auburn Gallipoli Mosque a special exemption to allow 400 worshippers to attend Friday Eid al-Adha prayers six weeks ago while twice rejecting requests from St Mary's Cathedral to relax the 100-person cap.
In an email earlier this month, NSW Health claimed that "a specific exemption for St Mary's would create a precedent that could lead to widespread relaxation of the gathering rule".
NSW Health said the exemptions were only considered under "exceptional circumstances" and the mosque had developed a comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan.
Previous applications from the mosque, similar to one of the requests made by St Mary's Cathedral, had also been rejected, according to NSW Health.
"In light of the importance of the priests' ordination at St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday, the NSW Minister for Health has granted an exemption to the Public Health Order for the day of the ordination," a NSW Health spokesman said.
"St Mary's Cathedral has developed a comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan for the ordination that comprehensively addresses the wellbeing of participants, their physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning, and record keeping.
"An extensive list of requirements is in place to ensure the maximum number of people in the congregation does not exceed 300 and people do not gather before and after the ceremony."
Strict rules will be enforced throughout the three-hour service, with the cathedral ensuring the one person per four square metre rule is complied with and that attendees sign in and socially distance.
A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said ll attendees would be required to wear a face mask, including clergy.
The mosque's government relations adviser Enver Yasar said they had to "demonstrate" extensively how they were going to adhere to the COVID safe standards.
Attendees were spread out across "four zones" including two levels of the mosque, an adjoining function hall and carpark.
"It would surprise me if NSW Health were not consistent in the way they provide exemptions. It is a difficult time for people of faith, and we are sympathetic to their (the church's) situation," he said.
Originally published as Catholics beat 'double standard' to win same rights as Muslims