Large Archdioceses Still Don’t Know When Faithful Can Go Back to Mass

U.S. sees mull the reopening process.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrates Easter Mass amid the coronavirus pandemic in the nearly empty St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 12 in New York City.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrates Easter Mass amid the coronavirus pandemic in the nearly empty St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 12 in New York City. (photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

More than two months into a national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, several of the nation’s largest archdioceses still do not have a timeline for when Catholics will be able to attend Mass in person.

“The archdiocese remains committed to working with public officials on the timing and conditions of reopening churches for Masses,” said Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston. “We hope and pray for the return of public celebrations when it will be safe to do so by way of new directives. In addition, the archdiocese is developing a series of phase-in plans to implement when we will be able to begin to resume public Masses and other public gatherings.”

Donilon said he did not have a specific time frame for when the archdiocese’s 1.8 million Catholics will be able to go back to church on Sundays.

He said the archdiocese would be ready when state authorities determine that it’s safe.

States have only just begun the process of reopening in the past few weeks. For example, Georgia allowed gyms, bowling alleys, barber shops, and hair and nail salons to start operations on April 24.

But only small numbers of customers are allowed. For example, one gym in Georgia told USA Today that it has a capacity of 100 people and usually draws 40 during peak hours. But now, with social-distancing guidelines, it can hold only 12.

Meanwhile, no date has been set for the state’s parishes to reopen. “We are still working on a plan,” said Maureen Smith, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Archdiocese. “As you are probably hearing from many dioceses — we have to take into account the local situation with the virus in addition to the physical reality of some of our parishes — we have buildings that are routinely packed with hundreds of people — so we have a lot to consider.”

She said Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer, appointed March 5, has a committee that is developing a plan. A little over a week into May she said the committee hoped to have an update soon.

According to the White House’s social-distancing guidelines published in mid-March, social gatherings of more than 10 people are to be avoided, which would make Sunday Mass prohibitive in all but the tiniest of parishes.

In New York, a state that has been at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, state faith leaders have yet to even receive official guidance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo as of May 8, according to Dennis Poust, the spokesman for the state’s Catholic conference.

He said the Church in New York “has communicated that we are anxious to work in conjunction with state health officials on a reopening plan.”

Although that plan has yet to be developed, Church officials do have some idea of what restrictions would be in place. Poust said it would include social-distancing guidelines and capacity limits. Parishes would have to regularly disinfect pews and other surfaces. There would also have to be liturgical modifications, “such as suspension of physical sign of peace” and “encouraging elderly or at-risk individuals to stay home.”

Given the governor’s regional approach, Poust said he expects upstate dioceses will resume public Masses sooner than those elsewhere. “Resumption of public worship is certainly a matter of great importance, not only to Catholics, but to all people of faith in New York, regardless of their tradition,” Poust said. “However, we certainly understand the cautious approach being taken by Gov. Cuomo in his phased reopening schedule, especially given the extraordinary nature of the infection rate in New York as compared to the rest of the country.”

Register correspondent Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.

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