The bishops of Minnesota have permitted parishes to resume public Masses, and to defy a statewide order prohibiting religious gatherings exceeding 10 people.
“An order that sweeps so broadly that it prohibits, for example, a gathering of 11 people in a Cathedral with a seating capacity of several thousand defies reason,” the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses said in a May 20 statement.
“Therefore, we have chosen to move forward in the absence of any specific timeline laid out by Governor Walz and his Administration. We cannot allow an indefinite suspension of the public celebration of the Mass,” the bishops added.
“We can safely resume public Masses in accordance with both our religious duties and with accepted public health and safety standards.”
The bishops’ letter permits parishes to resume public Masses on May 26.
Parishes are not obliged to begin public Masses that day, the bishops said, and those which do will need to meet stringent requirements established by the Church, including a plan to limit attendance to one-third of church capacity, and follow sanitation protocols. They also said that Catholics remain dispensed from the Sunday obligation.
A May 13 executive order began Minnesota’s second stage of statewide response to the coronavirus pandemic. The order, issued by Governor Tim Walz, reopens retail businesses and will gradually reopen restaurants and bars, but limits religious services to 10 people or fewer, with no timeline for loosening religious restrictions.
The bishops’ decision to contravene a statewide executive order is the first made by U.S. bishops since the coronavirus pandemic began.
But Minnesota’s bishops said the state’s prohibitions on religious gatherings of more than 10 people does not respect the right to the free exercise of religion.
“It is now permissible for an unspecified number of people to go to shopping malls and enter stores, so long as no more than 50 per cent of the occupancy capacity is reached. Big-box stores have hundreds of people inside at any one time, and the number of goods that are being handled and distributed in one store by many people—stock staff, customers, cashiers—is astounding. Workers are present for many hours per day, often in close proximity. There is no state mandate that customers wear masks in those malls or stores, wash their hands consistently, or follow any specific cleaning protocol,” the bishops wrote.
“In these circumstances, and given the well-researched protocols that we have proposed (and that are being followed successfully elsewhere in our nation) how can reason require us any longer to keep our faithful from the Eucharist?”
The bishops said they had made efforts to work with state leaders, but will move forward in reopening Masses despite the state’s decision to continue limiting religious services.
“We have attempted to engage in dialogue with the Administration. We have twice sent the Governor letters asking for a dialogue, most recently last Saturday. Though public health and public safety officials have listened to our concerns and have created opportunities for input and conversation, we have not received a concrete timeline and roadmap for resuming public worship that includes reasonable guidance on congregational size,” the bishops wrote.
“The human cost to this pandemic has been extraordinary, not just in terms of lives lost to the virus but the rapidly growing problems of job loss, depression, crime and violence, and substance abuse. As Pope Francis has said, the church must be a field hospital, ministering to all, but especially the poor and vulnerable. He has cautioned that overly drastic measures that limit church life will have a disproportionate impact on “the little ones” and those who have no one to rely on,” they added.
“As we work together, we can provide for the essential sacramental life of our faithful, fulfil our duty to worship God, and do so in a way that also protects the common good of our state.”
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