The ACT government has apologised to a leader of Canberra's Catholic community for failing to respond to a letter he wrote requesting churches be allowed to hold larger services.
Father Tony Percy, the Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, at first didn't receive an acknowledgment, let alone a detailed response, to a letter he sent to the government - until his situation was publicised by The Canberra Times.
Father Percy said soon afterwards he received a telephone call from an official who apologised to him.
Prior to that development, he had told the Times he was "disappointed" by the situation.
"It's incredible that I didn't even get an acknowledgement. I find it amazing, given that we are such a large part of the community," he said.
He is now steppeing up his campaign on behalf of the 160,000 registered Catholics in the ACT to get permission for bigger church services.
He's started an online petition to try to persuade the ACT government to allow up to 50 people to attend mass.
Father Percy is unhappy that pubs just across the border in NSW could have 50 drinkers while churches in Canberra were limited to 20 worshippers.
After Father Percy wrote to the ACT's Chief Health Officer Kerryn Colemann (the letter to which he said he initially did not receive a reply), Dr Coleman issued a public statement.
"Moving too quickly poses potential significant public health risks for our community," Dr Coleman said.
"We want Canberrans to be able to return to their normal lives, and their religious services, as much as possible while ensuring there are appropriate measures in place to keep everyone in our community safe and healthy."
Father Percy was particularly puzzled by how pubs in Queanbeyan in NSW could be allowed to have 50 people drinking but churches in the ACT only be allowed 20 worshippers.
Father Percy also couldn't see why, under the new rules, funerals in the ACT could have 50 people but church services only 20.
The priest, who speaks on behalf of the community of 160,000 professed Catholics, had organised the only petition on the website of the archdiocese.
It is addressed to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, and it says: "We request: That the Catholic Community be permitted to conduct religious services with no more than 50 persons from 11.59pm Friday, June 19, 2020.
- Our Churches are large public buildings that can easily comply with the 1 per 4sqm rule and satisfy hygiene requirements.
- This is consistent with 50 people allowed for funeral services from 11.59pm Friday May 29 2020 (Canberra's Recovery Plan).
- This is consistent with 50 persons allowed for concert venues, theatres, gyms, health clubs, fitness or wellness centres from 11.59pm on Friday 19 June 2020 (Canberra's Recovery Plan).
- This is consistent with the neighbouring state of NSW which permits 50 persons at religious ceremonies from Monday 1 June 2020."
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