Archbishop welcomes governor's plan to phase-in activities, including public worship

The Cathedral of the Assumption’s seating sat empty during the Chrism Mass, celebrated April 7 by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz welcomed and gave thanks May 1 for Gov. Andy Beshear’s safety plan to phase-in activities in Kentucky, including public worship in churches.

“I welcome the public safety plan from Governor Beshear regarding churches and the opportunity for us to reopen for public worship later this month,” the archbishop said in a statement on his blog at www.archlou.org. “I join with faith leaders throughout our Commonwealth in thanking him for listening to our concerns as we develop plans to respond in a way that ensures both safety and the ability to worship again together. As we Christians say during this Easter season, Alleluia!

“I am communicating with the other Catholic bishops of the state, our Archdiocese of Louisville Priests’ Council, and the governor’s office to determine best practices as we reopen our churches for public liturgical celebrations, including Mass. I know many Catholics are eager to get back to celebrating the Eucharist together at parishes. We want to accomplish this in the safest way possible as we seek the common good of all,” he said.

Father Scott Holmer, pastor at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Bowie, Md., offers drive-through confessions in the parking lot of the parish March 18, 2020, keeping a safe distance away from penitents amid the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard)

Public Masses and other worship services have been suspended in Kentucky since March 16, when guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended restricting gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19.

On April 29, Gov. Beshear announced a “tentative plan” to resume activities in several sectors in phases, including the religious sector. A press release about the plan says houses of worship may resume in-person services May 20 “at a reduced capacity” and said, “everything is contingent on being able to do social distancing, cleaning, sanitation and other accommodations.”

“A crowd is still going to be a dangerous thing until we are further along in defeating this virus,” Gov. Beshear said in the press release. “It’s something we need to continue to avoid.”

As states around the country begin to loosen restrictions meant to curb the pandemic, dioceses are grappling with the best way to safely hold Mass.

Catholic News Service reported one New Mexico diocese resumed public Masses in mid-April. And in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, public Masses were permitted starting April 29. In both cases, though, the congregations worship in their cars, for the most part.

Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, April 15 allowed public Masses to resume with restrictions that followed state requirements. He approved the start of outdoor services with people in cars as well as liturgies inside churches with no more than five people present and practicing social distancing.

Portland Bishop Robert P. Deeley April 29 announced that public Masses could resume immediately outdoors in church parking lots with restrictions.

The announcement said Holy Communion would not be distributed and worshippers were to remain in their vehicles with cars leaving one empty parking space between them. Social distancing would be the norm for those ministering at a Mass, and offertory collections would not be taken, although parishioners were encouraged to donate to their parish through the online portal WeShare.

Leaders of the Archdiocese of Baltimore are developing post-quarantine guidelines and protocols regarding liturgy, the sacraments and related concerns.

Auxiliary Bishop Adam J. Parker, vicar general, said a subcommittee of the archdiocesan coronavirus task force is expected to make its recommendations to the full task force in the coming days.

If approved by the task force and Archbishop William E. Lori, the recommendations will be distributed to pastors, pastoral life directors and parish leaders to help navigate what could be a thorny and challenging process for reopening in an age of social distancing.

“We’re really grateful for the patience our faithful parishioners, parish leaders and pastors have shown throughout the pandemic,” Bishop Parker said. “We ask for that to continue because it is such a complex matter and there is no precedent for it. We’ve practically rewritten the entire archdiocesan policy manual over the past five or six weeks. Now, in some senses, we are going to be writing it again for the phases of reopening.”

The new plan will be informed by the three-stage process of reopening the state of Maryland outlined by Gov. Larry Hogan April 24. The governor’s plan is dependent on a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations before being enacted. No timeline has been outlined for when that reopening process will begin.

In Iowa, bishops remain cautious about restarting public liturgy, saying state health officials have determined the peak of reported cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, has not yet peaked.

“Without an effective vaccine or widespread testing and contact data that justifies a change in course, we simply are not at a place where we can resume our previous prayer practices,” the state’s four bishops said in an April 28 letter.

In Oklahoma, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa said April 29 they had established a joint task force to explore the timeline and procedures for resumption of public Masses and would announce their plan May 6.

The task force includes priests and laypeople from both dioceses who are consulting with medical professionals.

Elsewhere, the bishops of Ohio April 27 identified the weekend of May 30-31, Pentecost, for the possible resumption of public liturgies.

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