Some Catholics in South Dakota will once again be obligated to go to Sunday Mass, after the Diocese of Sioux Falls announced it will lift the dispensation on Sunday Mass attendance this week.
From this weekend, Catholics in the diocese who are not in high-risk categories for contracting coronavirus will once more be bound by the Sunday obligation, making Sioux Falls the first diocese to lift the general dispensation brought in across US dioceses in the wake of the pandemic.
“After receiving clarity through prayer, consultation with clergy and others, and in light of this data, effective on August 17, 2020, I am changing the dispensation to apply only to those at increased risk for severe illness and those responsible for their care,” said a statement from Bishop Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls published on August 10.
“It is important for all in the diocese to know that this modification is made out of pastoral concern for the souls entrusted to my spiritual care,” he added.
DeGrood defined “those at increased risk for severe illness” as people who are over the age of 65, or anyone with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a compromised immune system due to an organ transplant, obesity, “serious heart conditions,” sickle cell disease, or type two diabetes mellitus.
The decision by the Sioux Falls bishop, whose territory includes the the eastern half of the state, is believed to be the first of its kind. Even in dioceses where public Masses have resumed, there is still no obligation in place for everyone to attend Mass if they do not think it is safe to do so.
DeGrood said in the statement that he made the decision to reinstate the obligation in light of the relatively low impact the novel coronavirus has had on the state of South Dakota, especially as the predictions of overrun hospitals and deaths in the thousands failed to materialize.
“As I have been praying these last months, I have been monitoring COVID-19 infection rates and am grateful the projected severe harm to a large number of people in East River South Dakota has not occurred,” said DeGrood.
“The local data presently available is helpful. For example, as of August 10, of the 44 counties in our diocese, seven have no active cases, 22 have one to 10 active cases, and 15 have 11 or more active cases. Thanks be to God, the hospitals within our state have not suffered an overwhelming surge as was initially feared,” he added.
As of August 10, there were 63 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, a number that DeGrood said represented “3% of the total hospital bed capacity, 3% of intensive care unit bed capacity, and 5% of ventilator capacity for the state.”
In the statement, DeGrood said that a Catholic who is hesitant to return to Mass, despite not being at an increased risk of COVID-19 or caring for someone who is severely ill–must discern whether or not their fear is “morally justifiable” or “inordinate.”
“It is essential that these serious questions are discerned in prayer and that the decisions are made in good faith, based upon objective data,” said DeGrood. He listed the examples of “morally justified” fear that would merit skipping Mass to be “regular contact with a person with increased risk,” “recent, prolonged contact with a symptomatic person,” or someone who has “a significant emotional response from fear of contracting COVID-19.”
DeGrood also reminded his flock in the statement about the importance of social distancing and “good hygienic practices” to further stop the spread of COVID-19.
Public Masses resumed in the Diocese of Sioux Falls on May 15, approximately two months after they were suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 146 South Dakotans have died from COVID-19. There are approximately 1,100 active cases of coronavirus statewide.