The Catholic Bishops of Minnesota have written an open letter announcing the resumption of public Masses as of May 26, in defiance of lockdown restrictions set by the state’s Democrat governor Tim Walz.
Many people of faith “were disappointed in Governor Walz’s May 13 announcement that he would end the Stay-at-Home order to allow more commerce but prohibit religious gatherings of more than ten people,” an order that “defies reason,” declares the May 20 letter, signed by Minnesota’s six Catholic bishops as well as the diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Duluth.
Insisting that the life of faith is “essential,” the bishops declare that they have given Catholic parishes “permission for the resumption of the public celebration of Mass on Tuesday, May 26, which will give us time to be ready for the celebration of Pentecost on May 31.”
“Parishes will be required to follow the strict protocols we have published for sanitation and social distancing and will have to limit attendance to one-third of the seating capacity of the church,” they state. “No one will be obliged to attend, as the bishops of Minnesota will continue to dispense from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.”
The bishops take pains to point out their ongoing efforts to work collaboratively with the Walz Administration as well as their overarching concern for the spiritual and physical well-being of their flock, while also noting the injustice of the governor’s arbitrary targeting of religious practice for especially strict regulation.
The letter notes that both the Catholic hierarchy and “some Lutheran colleagues” submitted a joint plan to the Governor on May 8 detailing their sanitation measures and proposing a cap on church attendance limited to 33 percent of building capacity, a plan that the governor rejected.
“Given our willingness to coordinate with the Governor, we are especially disappointed that his most recent order (20-56) does not address both the vital importance that faith plays in the lives of Americans, especially in this time of pandemic, and the fundamental religious freedom possessed by houses of worship that allows our country to thrive,” the bishops declare.
“The Governor’s remarks today further underscored a failure to appreciate the role of our Church and other faith groups in serving the community,” they said. “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.”
The bishops affirm their unanimous “conviction” that they can safely resume public Masses in accordance with both our religious duties and with accepted public health and safety standards.
The letter further notes that while Catholic parishes in Minnesota have permission to reopen for worship on May 26, none is obliged to do so. It also states that the bishops have encouraged those most at risk to stay home.
The bishops conclude their letter with a section on the respective rights and responsibilities of civil government and Church leaders, noting that the decision to suspend parish activities, Catholic schools, and the public celebration of Mass was made by the bishops themselves prior to any executive orders by the governor.
“Our decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass was painful,” they add. “We made that decision not because we were compelled to do so, but because we judged that the circumstances required it. We believe that those circumstances have changed, as confirmed by the Governor’s decision to end the Stay-at-Home order and allow more commerce.”
With the reopening of shopping malls and other establishments, “how can reason require us any longer to keep our faithful from the Eucharist?” they ask.
“We are blessed to live in a nation that guarantees the free exercise of religion,” they state. “This right can only be abridged for a compelling governmental interest, and only in a way that is narrowly tailored to be the least restrictive means of achieving the desired end.”
“We think that the executive order issued last Wednesday fails this test. 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,” they add.
“Therefore, we have chosen to move forward in the absence of any specific timeline laid out by Governor Walz and his Administration,” they state. “We cannot allow an indefinite suspension of the public celebration of the Mass.”