New executive order allows Minnesota churches to resume public worship at 25% capacity

Minnesota Catholic churches and other faith communities can host services at 25% of church capacity, with an upper limit of 250 people, beginning Wednesday, May 27, according to a new executive order announced May 23 by Gov. Tim Walz.

St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler called it an “important breakthrough” in a May 23 letter to the people of the diocese. “This breakthrough is consistent with our need to protect public health as we take significant precautions in how we come together and pray,” he said.

The announcement of the new executive order followed two days of meetings between the bishops, other faith leaders and the Walz administration. Minnesota’s bishops had announced on May 20 that they were moving forward with plans to allow public Masses to resume in Catholic churches on May 26 at one-third seating capacity, despite the governor’s “stay-safe” order that limited indoor and outdoor faith gatherings to 10 people or less to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The bishops maintained that they could “safely resume public Masses in accordance with both our religious duties and with accepted public health and safety standards,” especially as an increasing number of businesses were given more flexibility to operate.

In his letter welcoming the new executive order, Bishop Kettler thanked the Walz administration for working to find a path forward.

“I hope that the governor and his team have a better appreciation of both our duty to provide sacramentally for the good of our people and our unwavering Catholic commitment to working for the common good,” the bishop said. “With the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life, it should not be surprising that the Church jealously guards its jurisdiction over the sacraments.”

He also thanked the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for its assistance and the people of the diocese for their understanding during this challenging time.

Although Minnesota’s bishops had previously announced that Mass could begin May 26, the date is now pushed back to May 27 to allow the new executive to go into effect. Bishop Kettler also said the Diocese of St. Cloud would be making adjustments, as needed, to its protocols for resuming public Masses so they are consistent with the updated guidance issued by the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We can be thankful that the removal of the limitations will allow us to have Mass in the Easter season and come together on Sunday, May 31, for the celebration of Pentecost,” Bishop Kettler said.

But, he added, parishes must ensure they are ready and able to follow all required safety protocols before resuming larger public Masses.

“I need to make something clear about the return to Mass: The bishops of Minnesota have told our pastors and parishes that they should only return to public Mass when they are able to follow the many protocols in place — including sanitization and the changes to the liturgy, including the reception of Holy Communion,” Bishop Kettler said. “In the Diocese of St. Cloud, parishes must have a plan approved by me before they may begin celebrating larger public Masses. If a parish is not confident that they’re ready, they shouldn’t open. Period.”

All Catholics in the Diocese of St. Cloud remain dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days until further notice, he said. He asked pastors to strongly encourage those who are most at risk of severe illness due to their age or health conditions to stay home at this time. Parishes, he said, should continue to reach out to them, including by continuing to provide recorded or livestreamed Masses.

“Gov. Walz and his administration hope that when faith communities gather, they will do so consistent with public health guidance,” Bishop Kettler said. “We pledge to be good citizens when offering worship in our communities and to work with public officials to promote the common good.”

A day before Gov. Walz announced his new executive order, President Trump declared houses of worship “essential” and called on governors around the country to open them as early as Memorial Day weekend. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released new guidelines for faith communities.

In his press conference announcing the new executive order, Gov. Walz said he continues to encourage Minnesotans to stay home and faith communities to hold remote services as much as possible. But the new CDC and state health department guidance offer a way to partner with faith communities in moving forward.

He warned, however, that “the worst is not yet past in terms of infections and infection rates.” While seeking to strike a balance with Minnesotans’ freedom of religion, economic activities and other things people choose to do, public health requires everyone to collaborate together.

“We are our brother’s keeper, in this case, to making sure that what we do is going to have an impact on greater Minnesota – on the spread or the slowing of [the virus],” he said.

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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