Philippine authorities arrest pastor for holding church service

Police arrested a pastor in the southern Philippines on April 5, for holding a worship service attended by about 500 people amid a lockdown due to the new coronavirus.

Charges of “disobedience to persons in authority” and “non-cooperation” related to health events of public concern were filed against Pastor Alfred Caslam, 58.

Police Captain Sebastian Chua said Caslam, pastor of The Word of God Spirit and Life Ministries Inc., led a religious service inside a building in the city of Cagayan de Oro.

The police officer said the pastor’s violation is punishable by one to six months in detention and a fine not exceeding US$1,000.

Officer Chua said Caslam defied government orders prohibiting mass gatherings in light of the new coronavirus pandemic and disobedience to an agent of person in authority.

“We warned him about policies on social distancing and mass gathering due to the coronavirus, but it seems he did not heed our warning,” said the police officer in a telephone interview.

He said among those who attended the service were children, elderly people, and persons with disability.

Caslam apologized for the incident, saying that he did not realize that the number of attendees to the service would reach more than a hundred.

“We were told to observe social distancing, which we complied. In fact, we have arranged the seats to ensure that there is spacing between churchgoers,” he said in an interview.

He said it just happened that an “overwhelming attendance” of church members went beyond his control.

“I could not bring myself to tell them not to go to church and to drive them away,” he said. “If I have done so, then my members would no longer attend worship services,” said the pastor.

Caslam said he was in the middle of his sermon when he realized that more people arrived.

“It was my fault and I take full responsibility for it. I would like to ask for forgiveness. If they can forgive me, I promise that it will not happen again,” he said.

A list of people who attended the service has been submitted to the health department to determine “persons under monitoring” and “persons under investigation” for the disease.

Caslam, meanwhile, was placed under police custody and will be undergoing medical examination before he will be brought to the city’s detention facility.

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