On Pentecost Sunday, Catholics in Los Angeles will rally at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. They rally to support and encourage California bishops’ efforts to reopen in-person celebration of the Mass.
California churches are currently shuttered due to Governor Gavin Newsom’s strict coronavirus regulations. Ostensibly designed to protect health and safety statewide, the restrictions are some of the strictest in the nation. Many of the rules seem unrelated to controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Although Newsom has begun to relax restrictions for certain types of businesses and activities, church reopening was a lower priority.
What’s the Problem for Catholics?
Unlike Protestant denominations, Catholic churches cannot act independently to offer in-person worship. Dioceses are pastored by bishops and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops informs and guides policy for each dioceses’ activities. Pastors may not open parishes without permission to do so from the bishops.
Although some states’ bishops plan to resume in-person celebration of the Mass in defiance of their state regulations, California’s bishops must assess multiple challenges. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has announced plans to resume the Mass beginning on June 14th, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.
The Archbishop for the Diocese of Los Angeles informed priests on May 22nd that its churches will remain closed until further notice.
Los Angeles Catholics want to support their bishops and encourage a swift, safe resumption of in-person celebration of the Sacraments in their diocese, including Mass. The May 31st rally will be a peaceful, positive show of support. The rally is an effort of informal groups from dozens of parishes thoroughout the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Health, Insurance, and Legal Concerns
California bishops must consider the risk of infection not only to the laity, but also to an aging priesthood. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “[b]y 2025 it is estimated that religious sisters, brothers and religious order priests over 70 years of age will outnumber those under age 70 by nearly 4 to 1.” Coronavirus could decimate the already aging population of Catholic priests.
Since priests routinely encounter many parishioners during a given mass, they are at a higher risk for for contracting COVID-19 than are laity. Once infected, they could unknowingly transmit the virus at Mass to parishioners.
Bishops must carefully consider issues of liability for resuming in-person mass. Against the backdrop of CDC guidelines and Newsom’s restrictions, the Catholic Church in California could face crippling claims for damages arising out of exposure to coronavirus at a mass. If Mass were performed in violation of state law, insurance might not cover such liability.
Faith cannot be Quarantined
On Friday, May 23rd, President Donald Trump declared houses of worship “essential.” By defining faith as an essential activity, Trump is pressuring Democrat Governors like Newsom to ease restrictions on churches immediately.
Hours after Trump’s declaration, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a split ruling upheld Newsom’s ban on in-person church services, stating “constitutional standards that would normally govern our review of a Free Exercise claim should not be applied.” Judge Daniel Collins, recently appointed by Trump to the 9th Circuit, dissented from the ruling, writing “the State’s position on this score illogically assumes that the very same people who cannot be trusted to follow the rules at their place of worship can be trusted to do so at their workplace.”
For more information about the rally, go to www.MarchForFaith.org.