Applause, criticism greets bishops’ plan for May 26 public Masses

| May 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

Some parishioners applauded the Minnesota bishops’ plan announced May 20 to not accept Gov. Tim Walz’s 10-person limit on public Masses and other religious gatherings, while others raised concerns about a risk to people’s health in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d say that the faithful are behind the bishops,” said Charlie Anderson, a member of St. Michael in Stillwater. “I’m disappointed but not surprised by the governor.”

Anderson said he stood with the bishops as they expressed frustration and puzzlement over the state’s plans to allow wider opening of retail stores, hair salons and other establishments, while retaining a 10-person limit to religious gatherings. That limit seems particularly unreasonable for large churches and cathedrals that can seat hundreds and thousands of people, Anderson said.

“It seems to be a continuation of what we’ve seen in the last two or three weeks in houses of worship,” from the Walz administration, Anderson said. On May 13, Walz announced a loosening of some COVID-19 safety directives effective May 18, but continued to limit religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Patricia Eldred of St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis and Jim Mulrooney of Assumption in St. Paul told The Catholic Spirit May 22 that giving churches the option to open more widely — to one-third capacity starting May 26 under the bishops’ plan — could prove disastrous.

There are people, some of them elderly, who are considered at high risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, who will feel compelled to attend Mass even if it is not in their best interests, they said.

“I feel if they think if there is a Mass being said at their parish, they are going to go,” Eldred said. “I’m particularly concerned about older people. I feel like people are not understanding this is a very serious disease.”

Eldred and Mulrooney said they understood that the governor and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were talking about the issue. They said they greatly appreciate and respect the governor’s efforts to protect people in the course of the pandemic, and they hoped the bishops would align more closely to Walz’s initial position. The length of time people will spend together in a worship space and the number of people gathered make it particularly concerning, they said.

“I think getting people into those close quarters, it’s not going to be a good thing,” said Eldred, who also expressed concern about the bishops challenging state officials.

Several people expressed concern on The Catholic Spirit’s Facebook page about the bishops’ plan. They, too, worried about its impact on public health, or the bishops’ defiance of civil authorities.

“While I don’t agree with how long it’s taking the state to modify restrictions, and it appears greater responsiveness and collaboration would be beneficial to all — I am disheartened at the defiant stance,” posted Ann Rivera. “While the dispensation continues and elderly are encouraged to refrain, they are often the most faithful. I pray we don’t see an increase in funerals.”

Another poster commented that what the bishops were doing “isn’t fair” if “everyone else has to remain closed.”

But of the dozens of comments received in the day following the announcement, most were supportive. “Thank you Archbishop Hebda for your courage and bravery,” wrote Cindy Prior. “Have been praying hard the last 2 days during your meetings and I think prayers have been answered!”

Public Masses had been suspended since March 18 across Minnesota, and Archbishop Hebda and other Catholic bishops in the state were gearing up to allow parishes to offer public Masses beginning May 18 at 30 percent capacity, with additional safety precautions. The archbishop expressed disappointment with the 10-person limit and said he hoped meetings with administration officials May 18 and May 19 would bear fruit by opening church doors wider in Minnesota. At the same time, livestreaming Masses would continue, as would suspension of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and advising people not to attend Mass if they are 65 or older, are ill or have underlying health conditions, he said.

However, Walz retained the 10-person limit in a May 20 news conference, while saying how best to begin allowing wider participation in religious gatherings was a difficult question that received a great deal of discussion in his administration. Shortly after, Archbishop Hebda and the other bishops of the state announced they would proceed with a 30-percent capacity plan effective May 26.

In the hours before the bishops announced their plans to move forward with a wider opening of churches, Anderson reached The Catholic Spirit to explain that he and others wished the bishops would push harder for wider opening of churches.

After the bishops announced their plans, Anderson said he was pleased. And there were people, he said, willing to risk arrest if the governor sought to enforce the 10-person limit.

There appeared to be an almost “anti-religion” bent in the governor’s stance, he said. Certainly, a lack of logic, Anderson said, in comparing what the administration was allowing for big box stores and other establishments with places of faith.

“I just stood for 20 minutes in line at Mills Fleet Farm, with people all around me,” he said. Not being concerned about that, but worrying about people gathering to worship at Mass for an hour while being cautious about social distancing is “laughable,” he said.

“I’m in an office with 30 other people six to eight hours a day,” Anderson said. The governor’s arguments “ring hollow,” he said.

Nicholas Lahti, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul in Loretto, said he stood by the bishops’ plans as well. “Bishops should decide for the churches they are responsible for up to no restrictions,” he said.

“A 10-person limit in the church is confounding,” Lahti said. “Ten people in even the smallest town parish far exceeds the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations on social distancing and there is no way Governor Walz does not understand this.

“His willingness to put such onerous restrictions on religious bodies while allowing other organizations to operate within a more reasonable framework displays a callous attitude towards the importance of religion in people’s lives and our basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution,” Lahti said.

His family misses the Mass, Lahti said. What he misses most is giving his three children that link to Catholicism. Livestreaming Masses is great, he said, but it can be harder to hold children’s attention.

“The mind often follows the body, and it is more difficult to teach our children without physically being in church,” he said.

But as state officials gradually loosen some restrictions during the pandemic, Mulrooney said it isn’t right to compare a church setting with a hair salon. “They are different environments,” he said. “The risk is in a church, you get a big bump (in infections) because there are so many people there.”

The most compelling thing is remembering that Christ died for everyone on the cross, and his call to sacrifice for others in this instance seems to include foregoing the Eucharist to guard people’s health, Mulrooney said.

“When we are confronted with a public health crisis, which we are, we have to say, ‘How are we being called to respond?'” he said. That might include delivering food to someone in need, calling to check on the elderly, and even denying the personal desire for the sacrament and gift of the Eucharist, he said.

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Local News