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‘We’re in unknown territory’: Uncertainty follows parish and diocesan employee layoffs 

Denver, Colo., Apr 2, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Dawne Mechlinski was a parish music minister for 41 years.

When she was 12 years old, when she was asked to be the organist at her parish in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. She agreed, and added organ lessons onto her piano lessons. After attending Westminster Choir College, she’s been a full-time director of music since 1988 in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

Mechlinski, now 53, is the kind of parish music minister who sticks around - she’s only ever served at three different parishes, including her childhood parish. She’s been at her current parish, St. Mark's in Sea Girt, since 2006.

That is, until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

At first, Mechlinski said employees of the parish took their own social distancing and health precautions, but for the most part, “everything was normal. Then on the weekend of the 14th and 15th (of March), I had questions from parents of choir members.”

The parents were wondering if choir practice was continuing, and if so, what it would look like. Mechlinski, who directs four choirs, decided to cancel choir for the weekend. Instead she played the organ while one person sang for all four Masses.

Attendance was low, Mechlinski noted, as social distancing was already catching on throughout the United States, but the collection basket wasn’t hit too hard, as many parishioners have moved to online donations.

Later that week, on Thursday, March 19, Mechlinski played the organ again for a funeral Mass. That evening, she got the call.

"We've decided you're furloughed,” the parish business administrator told Mechlinski.

“I even had to question really what that meant,” she said. “I thought that was a military term, to be honest. I wasn't prepared. I actually thought she was calling to give me protocol, how we would be handling things, what would be going on down the road.”

“And the business administrator just said, ‘This is what everyone (in the diocese) is doing, this is how we'll handle it.’ She was reading me this letter. And that was it. She said, ‘You will be paid until tomorrow,’ which was Friday. I'm off on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that was it.”

Bishops across the United States have suspended public liturgies and closed church buildings in the past few weeks in response to state-issued public safety policies, and Catholic leaders have warned of an immediate revenue shortfall. Consequences of that shortfall include staff reductions, furloughs, and decreased hours.

The furlough came as a shock to Mechlinski, who noted that her parish is located in a “very affluent” area. Music ministry has been her life-long passion, it’s also her career: the primary source of income for a widowed mother to four children, two of whom still live at home and have significant medical needs.

Mechlinski said she tried to ask some clarifying questions, but as of now, things are “not real clear.” She’s unsure what will happen to her health insurance or her life insurance. She was told that her parish had not been paying into unemployment insurance, so she’s not sure what she qualifies for as far as any kind of aid right now.

“I am...a little alarmed that they don't have something in place for their employees as a protection,” she said. “I've asked for a letter of furlough explaining (the details) and I have yet to receive it. I've asked for it a couple of times just to have something permanent rather than a phone conversation.”

Linda Rosa, the business manager at St. Mark’s, told CNA that the parish had been in a deficit even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We weren't in the best shape to begin with. We were just trying to get out of it and all of a sudden, there's something that happens,” Rosa said. She said she has been in touch with employees and with the diocese as the parish has had to make difficult financial decisions to furlough or lay off employees.

Rosa added that as of April 1, no full-time employee of the parish had yet gone without pay. Rosa said Mechlinski was still receiving pay for any personal or sick time off that she had not yet used in the year, as were the other employees. She said Mechlinski and all other employees’ benefits will be covered by the parish for the duration of the pandemic.

“We're just continuing to pray for all those that have been affected,” Rosa said.

Rayanne Bennett, director of communications in the Diocese of Trenton, told CNA that furloughs were an “unfortunate necessity” due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the drop in donations at the parish level also affects the financial stability of the diocese.

Bennett said that the diocese will pay for the health insurance of all furloughed employees for three months “at minimum,” and has advised all furloughed staff to apply for unemployment benefits through new federal coronavirus benefits.  

“We are doing all that we can and will continue to give this our best effort. While there is great uncertainty at this time, it is our hope that we can restore our parishes, schools and diocesan operations to full staffing once the current emergency has passed,” Bennett said.

Mechlinski said she’s unsure of what comes next. She’s hoping that the terms of her furlough become more clear, and she plans to look into what federal aid she may qualify for. A friend of hers, who was recovering from coronavirus with his wife, set up a GoFundMe page to support her.

“He really stepped out and said, ‘Listen, I need to do something for you.’ So he put together a GoFundMe, which I thought was really sweet,” she said. “It's going to be the angels among us that are all going to help us to get through. The community that continues to lift everyone up, and whatever means of support that people find in their hearts is a blessing.”

Ministry is also a passion for Emily Davenport, 23, who served as a full-time missionary with LifeTeen last year in Georgia before moving to Sandusky, Ohio in September for a job as a youth minister.

The position had been vacant for about a year and a half, Davenport said, and she’s spent most of this year building a youth program back up from scratch.

But now, she’s back home in St. Louis, living with her parents and her 19 year-old seminarian brother, after she was laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we have been told is that we're laid off until Sunday Masses resume, so as far as we know, the plan and the hope is that we're all rehired,” Davenport said.

“But I also know that shortly before we got laid off, we were told nobody was going to get laid off. And so it's like everything feels very unpredictable,” she added.

Davenport said she doesn’t have hard feelings about being laid off, and that her pastor handled the situation well.

“Our pastor is fantastic, for the record,” she said. “He's a really wonderful man. He's really... trying very, very hard to be prudent for the future of the parish. And so almost as soon as public Masses were canceled, most of our parish staff was either laid off or (had) hours cut. He was an accountant before he was a priest, so he has a lot more managerial foresight than I think...a lot of pastors do.”

Davenport said when her pastor called to tell her the news, he explained to her how she could apply for unemployment benefits.

The parish is also covering Davenport’s health insurance for the pandemic at no cost to her, and because Davenport had been living in parish-provided housing, and has now moved back home with her parents, she doesn’t owe rent anywhere.

“I see them trying to do everything they can. It's just a sucky situation,” she said.

Fr. Monte Hoyles, the pastor of the Catholic Parishes of Sandusky, the tri-parish conglomerate where Davenport had worked, told CNA he hoped that he could bring his staff back as soon as possible.

“I mean, (laying off staff) is not something you want to do. Who would want to do that?” he said.

“But with very little money coming in and salaries to pay...until we can get back (to public Masses) this was the only way to ensure that we're able to continue what things we can do for right now,” Hoyles said, adding that the parishes are covering health insurance for all laid-off employees who qualified for it.

“I told my employees from the three parishes and also our cemeteries...I want to bring you back as absolutely soon as I possibly can,” Hoyles said.

Davenport said she feels blessed because she has her family as a safety net, and her dad’s job is pretty secure. But she still has bills to pay, and she doesn’t want to rely on her family for long.

“I was on ‘operation trying to be an independent adult’, but at least for now, I'm trying to take care of my cable bill, and the other things like...car insurance and my car payment,” she said.

“Maybe the bank will be able to let me wait a month or two before paying car payments, in the hope that my job would be back and I'd be able to just pick up where I left off,” she added.

She said she hopes to return to ministry, but that all depends on how things go in the near future with the Church and the pandemic.

“I know I'll be okay for a few months, but after those few months, I'd have to start finding other ways to take care of those bills.”

Cassandra Tkaczow is another Church employee facing a layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tkaczow was in her second year as an assistant campus minister at Alfred State and Alfred University in New York until March 18, when she was laid off.

“The students were on spring break when everything really started to explode here in New York state,” Tkaczow said. One of her students called her to explain that she wouldn’t be coming back for the semester, but the school’s official policy had not yet been decided.

A few days later, Alfred State College and Alfred University announced that the students would be allowed to come back to campus to collect their belongings, but that all classes would be taking place online.

At first, Tkaczow said, it seemed like she would be getting paid through the end of the semester, and she would just be moving her ministry online. Just days after that plan was discussed, she was laid off.

“Both of us (Tkaczow and her boss) had a suspicion, with the bankruptcy of the diocese in Buffalo that we would not be coming back for the next semester, but we didn't expect it to be this soon,” she said. The Diocese of Buffalo filed for bankruptcy last year due to sexual abuse lawsuits.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Buffalo provided to CNA, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated diocesan plans of financial reorganization.

“While we deeply regret the very personal impact that this process of realignment will have on dedicated employees of the Catholic Center, we must assess how best to deploy the resources of the Diocese in ways that reflect responsible stewardship and which offer the greatest benefit for our parishes,” Fr. Peter Kalaus, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese, said in a statement.

“We anticipate that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will have a severe impact on parishes and exacerbate the financial challenges that the Diocese is already confronting. It is why we are accelerating our plans to better align the functions of the Catholic Center with the needs of our parishes,” he added.

According to the statement, 21 employees have been laid off or furloughed and 3 people moved from full-time to part-time. Health insurance will be covered by the diocese through April, after which time employees will either need to find different insurance or pay premiums directly to the diocese.

Tkaczow has since moved back home with her parents, who also live in New York. Like Davenport, her housing had been provided, and so rent is not a worry right now.

Tkaczow said while she understands from a financial standpoint why her position was eliminated, she feels bad for her students.
“I also couldn't help but think, how could they do this to the students? Because they just completely got rid of the campus ministry program, because of the bankruptcy. And with it being this early, how could they do that to them? How are they going to go forward in the coming semesters and years?”

For now, she’s been continuing to minister remotely to her students even without pay. She’s leading a rosary and social hour on Thursdays, and on Mondays she’s leading a Bible study.

While Tkaczow has a degree in computer science, she said her passion is for ministry, and while she may have to find another job to pay the bills for a time, “if God calls me to be in campus ministry or youth minister again, I would not hesitate in saying yes.”

The small parishes of St. Mary in Bloomfield, New Mexico and St Rose of Lima in Blanco New Mexico, in the Diocese of Gallup, have fared slightly better in the coronavirus fallout.

Fr. Josh Mayer, pastor of both parishes, told CNA that he expects to be able to pay his employees for the next six months or so, even if extreme social distancing measures for the pandemic continue.

“Our parishes are in a very blessed position to be able to take care of our staff for a while,” Mayer told CNA.

Mayer said due to canceled Masses, regular tithes to the parish are down to about a third of what they normally are. That could pick up slightly as more parishioners adjust to online donations, but for the most part, a lot of his parishioners haven’t taken to that in recent years, he said.

But the parish is still in a position to pay its staff for a while, and Mayer said he has plenty for them to do.

“I’ve got lots of projects I can give our people to do. Our maintenance guy has to come in and work on stuff here...even when buildings aren't being used, they need upkeep,” he said.

“And we're figuring out...how our parish kind of shifts some of our activities to different categories I guess. I mean a lot of stuff that we do with parishioners, we can still do. It just has to look really different,” he said.

Mayer said he was touched by the generosity of his financial manager, Sally Bales, who took a look at the books and the decreased donations and offered to donate her salary back to the parish for the time being so that other staff could remain on payroll.

“We’re just hoping that we can keep everybody employed in the meantime, so something like what Sally did is a huge boon for that,” he said.

“It definitely helps take care of the other parishioners or the other staff and helps ensure that we can keep them employed.”

Bales told CNA that because she and her husband are retired, she decided to donate her salary back for a while, to help younger staff members who are raising families and are relying on their jobs as their main source of income.

“The other staff members are younger, of course, than I am, and that's their sole income, so it's a lot harder picture for them than it is for me,” she said.

Bales, who manages the finances of both parishes, said that one of the parishes has a significantly higher percentage of online donations than the other.

“The parish that had more involvement online has not been as adversely affected as the one that people typically give cash at Sunday Mass,” she said.

“That's one thing I shared with Father, so that he can maybe encourage people to do more online giving. Our expenses don't change much whether we have Mass or not, and yet our donations are definitely volatile whether we have a physical gathering or not,” she added.

Some parishioners have been mailing in donations, Bales added, and staff have been calling people to encourage them to move to online giving, since “we don't really see an end when this is going to wrap up.”

Bales said she’s grateful that the parishes had some money set aside, so that they are not relying on the current week’s donations to pay staff salaries.

“As it happens, the parishes that I support have been very conservative and have some money set aside. It's not like we have to have the money this week to pay the next week salary, so that's wonderful,” she said.

Bales added that while she and her husband will miss her income from the parish for the time, they realize it isn’t something they need as much as other people on staff do.

“It's money. It would delay things we would want, but not things that we need. I think that's the difference,” she said.

“I think that actually, people that are retired or are in a better position to support the parish than the young employed people that are losing their jobs or having their time cut back,” she said. 

“And so I think it's a time for people that do have a regular income coming in to step up their donations. Usually, you think of someone on a fixed income is on the short end of the stick, but in this situation, we're really in a better position than someone who's currently earning their keep.”

Boise bishop bans 'ad orientem' posture in 'ordinary form' Masses

Denver, Colo., Apr 1, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Boise told priests last month that the ordinary form of the Mass should not be celebrated in the ad orientem posture, and that material from “independent websites” is not appropriate for religious instruction regarding the liturgy.

“I am instructing priests in this diocese to preside facing the people at every celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” Bishop Peter Christensen wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to priests, which was published in the March 27 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.

“There are priests who prefer ad orientem. I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for Mass and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.”

The bishop wrote that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is “unambivalent” about liturgical orientation, and “makes it plain that the universal Church envisions the priest presiding at Mass facing the people.”

While liturgists have debated the precise meaning of the liturgical document that references the direction a priest faces during the celebration of the Mass, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship clarified in 2000 that the document does not forbid the ad orientem celebration of the liturgy.

In 2016, Bishop Arthur Seratelli, then-chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee, wrote to U.S. bishops that while the General Instruction of the Roman Missal “does show a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people ‘whenever possible’ in the placement and orientation of the altar,” the Church “does not prohibit the celebration of the Eucharist in the Ordinary Form ad orientem.”

“Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and, most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served.”

While neither universal canon nor liturgical law require the permission of a bishop before a priest celebrates the Mass ad orientem, Seratelli wrote that “such an important decision should always be made with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop,” Seratalli wrote.

Ad orientem, or facing the east, was, until recent decades, the long-standing historical posture for celebrating Mass in the Latin rite, and has been understood to reflect the community’s watchfulness for the return of Jesus Christ from the east. In the ad orientem posture, both the priest and the people face the apse of the Church, or the tabernacle, during the celebration of the Mass.

The ad orientem celebration of the Mass fell out of customary use in many parts of the world after 1969-1970 revisions to the Roman Missal, although those revisions did not explicitly call for a change in liturgical orientation. The possibility of the versus populum, or facing the people posture was mentioned in a 1964 Vatican instruction regarding the placement of altars. In recent years, some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops have promoted and encouraged a return to the ad orientem posture.

Christensen’s letter said that in his diocese, the ad orientem orientation would be prohibited. He explained that “it was clearly the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people.”

Deacon Gene Fadness, a spokesman for the Diocese of Boise did not explain what document of the Second Vatican Council conveys the “mind of the Council” on the matter, which is not mentioned in Sacrosanctum concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy.

Fadness did tell CNA that “In all liturgical matters, Bishop Peter carefully considers the statements of the CDWDS, the instructions in the ritual books and Canon Law, and his responsibility as chief liturgist of the diocese.”

Christensen’s letter also told priests that “in instructing the faithful regarding questions of posture, gesture, reception of Communion, etc., clergy are to refer always to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Order of the Mass, and other officially promulgated ritual books for the form of liturgy they are celebrating; or to documents propagated by the Holy See or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by appropriate authorities.”

“Sources such as independent websites and social media platforms that are unaffiliated with the Holy See or the USCCB are not to be considered trustworthy or appropriate for catechesis,” the bishop wrote.

Fadness declined to name the independent websites the bishop had in mind, but when presented with examples of such websites, namely Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic Answers, the spokesman told CNA that “The Bishop has no problem with solid Catholic sources such as Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Answers. But, of course, he is not bound by what any contributing writers to these sites say, and he prefers that his priests give priority to the GIRM and approved USCCB documents as catechesis for the faithful on liturgical matters.”

The deacon told CNA that Christensen “is the Bishop for our diocese and has full authority to determine liturgical practices within it.”

He cited as an example of the bishop’s authority a March 2019 decision to require Catholics to kneel in the Mass after the Agnus Dei, as is the norm in the U.S., but was not the practice in Boise until Christensen’s intervention.

In his February letter, Christensen offered additional liturgical norms for the diocese, instructing that while Catholics are permitted to receive the Eucharist while kneeling, priests should not use kneelers or Communion rails that might encourage the practice. The bishop also requested that priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass notify the bishop they are doing so, and instructed that “elements from Missal use at the Extraordinary Form liturgy are not to be imported into Masses celebrated under the Ordinary Form.”

At least two parishes in the Diocese of Boise offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form, one of which is administered by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Christensen, 67, has been Bishop of Boise since 2014. He was named Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, in 2007. Fadness told CNA that Christensen’s aim was “reminding his priests that the integrity of the instruction within each Missal must be respected insofar as possible.”

The letter was sent to priests in February, but published at the end of March, after the public celebration of Mass had been suspended across the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the timing of the letter’s publication, Fadness explained that the diocesan newspaper “publishes only twice monthly.”

“The Bishop is merely asking that the Ordinary Form be followed during a Novus Ordo Mass and the Extraordinary Form be followed during the Traditional Latin Mass,” Fadness explained.

“Some of our priests were mixing Extraordinary Form practices with the Ordinary Form, which was causing confusion among the faithful, some fearing that we were introducing pre-Vatican II practices.”

Ed. note: This story has been updated.

Can I confess? Or be anointed? Here’s what’s suspended -or not- in your diocese

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- All public celebration of Mass has been suspended in every Latin Rite diocese in the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many bishops have now also taken steps to limit or suspend access to other sacraments due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and to comply with local regulations that prohibit people from leaving their homes.

Here’s a list of those dioceses.

If your diocese is not listed here, your bishop has not issued a blanket policy suspending sacramental access, beyond the suspension of Mass. However, sacramental access may vary in different places and parishes depending on pastoral discretion and local stay-at-home orders.

If you are aware of any changes or updates,  email us here. Try to include a link if you can.

Province of Anchorage (Archdiocese of Anchorage, Dioceses of Juneau, and Fairbanks):

No changes to report.

Province of Atlanta (Archdiocese of Atlanta, Dioceses of Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte):  

The Archdiocese of Atlanta has prohibited confessions in confessionals, but “individual confessions may be celebrated in a well-ventilated area” that allows for both social distancing and confidentiality. Priests are encouraged to be extra cautious when offering the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

The Diocese of Raleigh has suspended penance unless the penitent is in danger of death. “Drive-through” confessionals have been banned. 

Province of Baltimore (Archdiocese of Baltimore, Dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Richmond, Arlington): 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has issued a policy suspending all sacramental ministry unless death is imminent.

Province of Boston (Archdiocese of Boston, Dioceses of Burlington, Fall River, Manchester, Portland, Springfield Ma., Worcester):

The Archdiocese of Boston is allowing priests to hear private confessions when they are requested, provided that “reasonable precautions” are taken.

The Diocese of Burlington is requesting penitents make an appointment for confession. 

The Diocese of Fall River has said that “Priests may offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation only in danger of death, or by appointment in extraordinary situations.”  

The Diocese of Manchester has instructed Catholics to contact their individual parishes for sacraments. 

The Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts has closed all churches and has suspended the sacrament of anointing of the sick. 

Province of Chicago (Archdiocese of Chicago, Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield Ill.): 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has said that “individual confessions are currently not possible” due to the stay-at-home order.  

The Diocese of Belleville has said that “individual confessions are currently not possible” due to the stay-at-home order.

The Diocese of Joliet has closed all churches and adoration chapels, and the sacrament of penance has been suspended unless the penitent is dying. 

The Diocese of Peoria has instructed priests to hear confessions outdoors if possible to comply with privacy and social distancing requirements.

Province of Cincinnati (Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Dioceses of Cleveland, Columbus, Steubenville, Toledo, Youngstown):

The Diocese of Cleveland has canceled scheduled confessions, but individual parishioners are to contact their priests for an appointment. 

The Diocese of Columbus has closed churches and has said that confession is to be made available only for the sick or in the case of emergencies.

The Diocese of Toledo has instructed priests that “Every consideration should be given to making the Sacrament available, perhaps during a time when the church is open for private prayer.”

The Diocese of Youngstown has instructed priests to offer confession by appointment only, with safety precautions taken by priests. 

Province of Denver (Archdiocese of Denver, Dioceses of Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, Pueblo):

The Archdiocese of Denver has left the provision of confession up to individual parishes.

The Diocese of Cheyenne has suspended all sacraments unless there is a danger of death.

Province of Detroit (Archdiocese of Detroit, Dioceses of Gaylord, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Marquette, Saginaw): 

The Diocese of Marquette has closed all churches in accordance with Michigan’s “Stay-At-Home” order and has said confession is to be made available only to the sick or dying. 

The Diocese of Saginaw has instructed priests to “consider the best options of the celebration of private confession for those in dire need of the sacrament.” 

Province of Dubuque (Archdiocese of Dubuque, Dioceses of Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City):

The Archdiocese of Dubuque is permitting one-on-one confessions, with safety precautions. Archbishop Jackels wrote that “the use of general absolution during this pandemic is allowed.” 

The Diocese of Des Moines has said confession is currently “mainly” by appointment. 

The Diocese of Sioux City has said confession is available by appointment only. 

Province of Galveston-Houston (Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Dioceses of Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Tyler, Victoria): 

The Diocese of Beaumont has instructed priests to hear confession by appointment only. 

Province of Hartford (Archdiocese of Hartford, Dioceses of Bridgeport, Norwich, Providence): 

The Diocese of Norwich has instructed people to contact their pastors about sacramental availability. 

Province of Indianapolis (Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Dioceses of Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary, Lafayette):

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has instructed priests to postpone individual appointments for confession unless the penitent is in danger of death. 

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has canceled scheduled confession times, but priests are allowed to hear confessions by appointment. 

The Diocese of Gary has said that confessions can be heard on a “case-by-case basis.”

The Diocese of Lafayette has ordered churches to remain closed and there will be no scheduled confessions until further notice, unless there is a danger of death. 

Province of Kansas City (Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, Dioceses of Dodge City, Salina, Wichita): 

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has ordered adoration chapels to close, but churches can remain open with fewer than 10 people inside. Confessions must comply with social distancing guidelines. 

Province of Los Angeles (Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego): 

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has suspended regularly scheduled confessions and confessions only can be heard if there is a danger of death or “extremely extraordinary situations.” 

The Diocese of Fresno has closed all “churches, missions and stations; including all grounds and facilities such as chapels, halls, meeting rooms and classrooms” until further notice.

The Diocese of San Bernardino has suspended confessions until further notice, saying “you should not have any confessions at all at your parishes.” Exceptions will be made for the dying.

Province of Louisville (Archdiocese of Louisville, Dioceses of Covington, Knoxville, Lexington, Memphis, Nashville, Owensboro): 

The Diocese of Covington has said that confessions are to be heard by appointment only.

The Diocese of Lexington has said confessions are to be heard by appointment and that general absolution could potentially be offered to those in a hospital if the situation merits it.

Province of Miami (Archdiocese of Miami, Dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Venice):/

The Archdiocese of Miami has suspended all activities, including confessions, that would require people to leave their homes for the next two weeks. This was decided after Florida issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order. 

The Diocese of Orlando has said confessions are to be heard only in emergency cases.

The Diocese of St. Augustine has instructed clergy to use “pastoral discretion and wisdom when making decisions for the parish.” 

The Diocese of St. Petersburg has allowed individual parishes to make decisions regarding confession availability.

The Diocese of Venice has declared that baptisms should only be celebrated in the case of emergency and that “Anointing of the Sick ought to be requested only in genuine need for the dying.”

Province of Milwaukee (Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Dioceses of Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Superior): 

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has stated that confessions are “private.” 

The Diocese of Green Bay has said that confession should be held outside of a confessional, and general absolution may be given in health care facilities with a large number of sick patients, or in religious institutes with many sick residents. 

Province of Mobile (Archdiocese of Mobile, Dioceses of Biloxi, Birmingham, Jackson):

The Diocese of Biloxi has instructed that anointing of the sick be offered only to those “most in need.”

The Diocese of Birmingham has encouraged priests to be “creative” when scheduling confessions outside of confessionals. 

The Diocese of Jackson is allowing confessions to continue as long as they do not violate “lockdown” orders. 

Province of New Orleans (Archdiocese of New Orleans, Dioceses of Alexandria La., Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette La., Lake Charles, Shreveport): 

The Diocese of Baton Rouge is permitting confessions by appointment only and has suspended all regularly scheduled confession times. 

The Diocese of Lake Charles has said that anointing and confession are to be made available on an “individual basis.” 

The Diocese of Shreveport requires confessions take place with some sort of barrier between the priest and penitent. 

Province of New York (Archdiocese of New York, Dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, Syracuse): 

The Diocese of Albany has “prohibited” scheduled reconciliation, but parishioners may call a priest for an appointment. 

The Diocese of Brooklyn has limited confession to emergencies only. Anointing of the sick may occur as needed. 

The Diocese of Buffalo has limited both anointing of the sick and confession to the gravely ill. 

The Diocese of Rochester is offering confession outside of confessionals. 

The Diocese of Rockville has said that confession may not be “advertised or scheduled,” but that “confession can be conducted when urgently needed and when requested on a case-by-case basis.”

Province of Newark (Archdiocese of Newark, Dioceses of Camden, Metuchen, Paterson, Trenton): 

The Archdiocese of Newark has suspended confession except for “extreme emergencies” which it defined as “in danger of death.” 

The Diocese of Camden has limited confession to appointment only.

The Diocese of Metuchen has stated that penance is for only those in need. 

Province of Oklahoma City (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Dioceses of Little Rock, Tulsa) : 

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has said that confessions may be conducted only from behind a screen. 

The Diocese of Little Rock has suspended face-to-face confession, but the sacrament can be celebrated with a barrier between the priest and penitent.

Province of Omaha (Archdiocese of Omaha, Dioceses of Grand Island, Lincoln): 

No changes to report. 

Province of Philadelphia (Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Dioceses of Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton): 

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has instructed Catholics to contact their parishes about confessions. 

The Diocese of Greensburg’s website states there have been “restrictions” on anointing of the sick and penance, but does not offer further details. Diocesan offices are closed.

The Diocese of Harrisburg has closed all churches and chapels. Penance is restricted for those who are in danger of death. 

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has suspended all sacraments, including baptism, confession, and anointing of the sick, except for “the most grave of circumstances.” 

The Diocese of Scranton has suspended “public gatherings for the celebration of Confessions or the Anointing of the Sick, indoors or outdoors.” Priests will be available for the “gravest circumstances.” 

Province of Portland in Oregon (Archdiocese of Portland, Dioceses of Baker, Boise, Great Falls-Billings, Helena):

The Diocese of Boise has closed all churches to the public, and suspended all holy hours and “other services” until the governor lifts the “stay at home” order.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has said that “Confessions should continue to be made available under conditions that are deemed appropriate by the pastor of the parish while providing for social/physical distancing.”

The Diocese of Helena has suspended all sacraments except for “extreme emergencies.” Priests are asked to be “courageous” when anointing. 

Province of St. Louis (Archdiocese of St. Louis, Dioceses of Jefferson City, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Springfield-Cape Girardeau):

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has suspended indoor confession in confessionals and said they must be heard in well-ventilated areas.

The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has said that confession and anointing of the sick are available by appointment only. 

Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Dioceses of Bismarck, Crookston, Duluth, Fargo, New Ulm, Rapid City, Saint Cloud, Sioux Falls, Winona-Rochester):

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis is complying with a local stay-at-home order, but has said that priests may “administer the sacraments in cases of serious need and on an individual basis.”

The Diocese of Fargo has canceled regular confessions. Catholics can make an appointment for confession, and “Every effort will be made to provide Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum to those who need it.”

The Diocese of Saint Cloud has left confession availability up to individual pastors. Confessions will only be available by appointment. Churches will be closed. 

The Diocese of Winona-Rochester has said that sacraments are available by appointment. 

Province of San Antonio (Archdiocese of San Antonio, Dioceses of Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Laredo, Lubbock, San Angelo): 

The Diocese of Amarillo has suspended confessions until the “shelter-in-place” order issued by Potter and Randall Counties has ended.

The Diocese of Dallas has suspended scheduled confessions, but priests may respond to individual requests for private confessions. The shelter-in-place order issued for the city of Dallas does not allow people to travel to churches. 

The Diocese of El Paso has said confessions may be made available by appointment.

The Diocese of Fort Worth has stopped the outdoor distribution of communion after Masses. Confessions must occur behind a screen. 

The Diocese of Laredo has canceled communal penance services, but individual confessions are available. 

The Diocese of Lubbock has suspended confessions and has ordered churches closed to comply with the “stay-at-home” order issued by the City of Lubbock. 

The Diocese of San Angelo has suspended the use of confessionals, but confessions may be heard in well-ventilated rooms. 

Province of San Francisco (Archdiocese of San Francisco, Dioceses of Honolulu, Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Stockton): 

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has requested priests move confessions to an appointment-only basis to avoid drawing a crowd. 

The Diocese of Honolulu has suspended confession and does not allow general absolution.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa has said it is “imprudent to set up or attempt to offer the availability of individual confession even with the utilization of various protective measures.” 

The Diocese of Stockton has canceled scheduled confession times and encouraged people to learn more about acts of perfect contrition. 

Province of Santa Fe (Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Dioceses of Gallup, Las Cruces, Phoenix, and Tucson): 

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is permitting general absolution in cases that “would include, but [are] not limited to, circumstances where the priest cannot enter a ward with dying COVID-19 patients or even with those who will hopefully recover but would be comforted by the absolution of their sins.”

The Diocese of Gallup has limited anointing to those who are in “imminent danger of death,” and the sacrament of reconciliation must be done in a well-ventilated space.  

Province of Seattle (Archdiocese of Seattle, Dioceses of Spokane, Yakima): 

The Archdiocese of Seattle is not permitting parishes to publicize confession times, but is scheduling confessions by appointment.

The Diocese of Spokane has limited penance and anointing of the sick to those who are in danger of death.

Province of Washington (Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands): 

No changes to report.

Coronavirus keeps volunteers away, but Arkansas Catholic Charities plans help for tornado victims

Little Rock, Ark., Mar 31, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An EF3 tornado blew through Jonesboro, Arkansas, this week, and although no deaths have been reported, Catholic Charities of Arkansas is gearing up to help those whose livelihoods will be affected by the disaster.

Patrick Gallaher, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, told CNA that he anticipates that their involvement with the disaster in Jonesboro will involve long term case management to help uninsured and underinsured families recover and settle into permanent housing.

Typically, with a tornado like this, Catholic Charities will work with Habitat for Humanity to help get underinsured people into a Habitat for Humanity house, he said.

“We have been in contact with the parish in Jonesboro, Blessed Sacrament Church, and with their local Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council, but have not received any reports of damage or need at this moment. Once we begin receiving information from Jonesboro, we will be able to craft a response to meet the specific needs,” Gallaher said.

The tornado damaged nearly 200 structures, including several factories. Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared a state disaster and the state is seeking a federal designation from the national government.

Though Catholic Charities of Arkansas is not part of the immediate emergency response, Gallaher clarified, first responders in the county, with state assistance, have set up an emergency shelter with care being taken not to spread the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Craigshead County, where Jonesboro is located, has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases. The state as a whole has around 500.

Gallaher said the main difficulties in helping victims of the tornado is a lack of volunteers and funds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Most of my volunteers, my disaster volunteers, are elderly people. And I wasn't even going to call them, I don't want to take a chance," Gallaher told CNA.

He also noted that fundraising has been made more difficult by the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of Little Rock.

About three percent of the state's population is undocumented immigrants, who will not be eligible for federal or state unemployment assistance, Gallaher said. With Jonesboro as a manufacturing hub, and much of the city's factory capacity destroyed, Gallaher said he expects Catholic Charities will likely start receiving requests for assistance with food.

“I expect that as the protocols put in place to contain the epidemic continue, we will be hearing from families unable to meet their daily needs because of lack of employment. Although the federal and state response regarding unemployment insurance and direct payments will help most, there will be a segment of our population that is ineligible and will need assistance,” Gallaher said.

Kentucky AG aims to declare abortion 'non-essential' under coronavirus bans

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- Kentucky’s attorney general has joined the national controversy over whether abortion clinics can continue to operate at a time when other surgeries and procedures have been canceled or delayed to conserve medical resources to combat the novel coronavirus.

“Abortion providers should join the thousands of other medical professionals across the state in ceasing elective procedures, unless the life of the mother is at risk, to protect the health of their patients and slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron said March 27.

The attorney general has asked Kentucky’s Acting Secretary of Health and Family Services Eric Friedlander to certify that abortion providers are not essential under the governor's executive order barring non-essential medical procedures. The certification is necessary to act against any abortion clinics in violation.

According to Cameron, the certification would advance the goals of conserving medical supplies and advancing the “social distancing” deemed necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

“Acting Secretary Friedlander is on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am confident that he understands, better than anyone, the necessity of ending abortion procedures during this health crisis,” Cameron said. “His certification will immediately trigger action by our office to stop elective procedures during the pandemic.”

The only remaining abortion clinic in the state is EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. It continues to perform abortions.

Cameron, the current attorney general, is a Republican. He made the request to the administration of Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, who was Kentucky Attorney General from 2016 to 2019.
Beshear campaigned on a pro-abortion rights position and defeated deeply controversial incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by about 5,000 votes in the November 2019 elections.

State legislators have proposed a bill to allow the attorney general's office to proceed with legal action without a certification from the health and family services department, the CBS affiliate WLKY reports.

The State Senate could consider the legislation, House Bill 451, on Wednesday. A floor amendment could bar abortions during the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

CNA contacted the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

Federal judges in Texas, Alabama, and Ohio on Monday halted state rules that would limit or halt entirely abortions during the coronavirus pandemic on the grounds they are non-essential surgeries. On Tuesday the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily reinstated the Texas rule.

Indiana, Oklahoma, and Iowa have similarly acted to limit abortions. A hearing on the Iowa law is pending and the others too could be challenged in court.

For their part, officials in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon have said abortions may continue.

In Utah, judgment about the medical necessity of an abortion will be left to the doctor, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health told the pro-abortion rights website Rewire News.

 

Maine priest encourages 'Pine Sunday' where there are no palms

Portland, Maine, Mar 31, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- With public Masses cancelled across the United States, ahead of Palm Sunday this weekend, some Maine Catholics are being encouraged to adopt a substitute devotional practice: pine branches. 

Traditionally, Catholics receive blessed palm branches during Mass on Palm Sunday, this year celebrated on 5 April, to mark Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem and the start of Holy Week. That will not happen this year, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the nationwide suspension of public Masses.

“Unfortunately, we won’t be blessing any palms in this year’s celebration because we won’t be able to process with them, nor can we distribute them so that you can place blessed palms in your home after Mass,” said Fr. Louis Phillips of the Diocese of Portland (ME) said. 

Instead, he has suggested to his parishioners at his three parishes to go outside--in a socially-distant manner--and clip a small pine branch to place behind a crucifix.

Phillips dubbed the idea “Pine Sunday,” and he is encouraging it among Catholics at St. Anne Parish in Gorham, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Windham. 

He told CNA that the idea of people came from a conversation he had with friends living in Florida. He realized that they would be able to grab a palm--albeit a non-blessed palm--from one of the naturally growing palm trees, and place it in their homes. 

“I thought, ‘Oh, too bad we don’t have any palm trees in Maine,’” said Phillips. “Then I got to thinking. I was looking outside, and thinking ‘but we do have plenty of pine trees.’” 

Maine’s official state nickname is “The Pine Tree State” and the trees are ubiquitous throughout the region.

“So I got to thinking that the people of Jesus’ time when they welcomed Him into Jerusalem that day, that first Palm Sunday, what they were doing in essence was laying out a red carpet for him,” said Phillips. Palm branches were readily available in Jerusalem, he explained, so they were a natural choice.

Phillips said that he hopes the presence of the pine branch will serve as a reminder of the Passion of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, as well as a remembrance of the unusual time that was Lent 2020. 

“I think this will be a Holy Week that none of us will forget, but that might just bring to mind the blessings and the challenges that we're facing today. Maybe when we look back on it in retrospect in months to come, we'll find some meaning in it all,” said Phillips. 

“So I thought maybe those pine branches could help do that, and still connect us really not only with the events of Holy Week but connect us with one another. If we kind of do this collectively, even though we are separated physically, there's something to be said when still we come together to pray together and celebrate our faith together through this simple thing,” he added.

The palms that were set to be delivered and distributed to the parishioners at Phillips’ three parishes will instead be used to decorate the church where Mass is live-streamed. Phillips said that this year, pine branches will also be a part of those decorations. 

At least one other priest in Maine has endorsed the concept of “Pine Sunday” for this year.

Fr. Seamus Griesbach, the director of vocations for the Diocese of Portland, approved of the “Pine Sunday” idea, and thought it was an excellent substitute for the traditional Palm Sunday tradition. 

“I was like, that is an awesome idea,” said Griesbach, when he learned of Phillips’ suggestion. 

YouTube, Griesbach said, half-jokingly, that the process of clipping a pine branch could also be a way to promote handwashing, as pine sap is incredibly sticky. 

“That stuff is nasty, it never comes off,” said Griesbach. “If you can wash that pine sap off your hands, you know that the coronavirus certainly isn’t surviving.” 

How college students can spend their time during the coronavirus

Denver, Colo., Mar 31, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has led colleges across the country to close their dorms, and offer classes online. As students return home with time on their hands, Catholics involved in campus ministry have offered advice on how to spend this time wisely.

Father John Ignatius, SJC, who served as chaplain at the University of Denver, and Peter Nguyen, a FOCUS missionary for Harvard University, have emphasized the important role of community, spiritual life, and charitable actions amidst quarantine.

Ignatius, who also leads the Servants of Christ Jesus religious community, told CNA that displaced students should prioritize prayer, community, and exercise, while making efforts to limit their screen time.

“It'll be so easy to binge on episodes [on] Netflix. [They should] decrease screen time and extracurricular time to be more relational,” Fr. Ignatius said.

“College students would do well to stay in touch with each other via phones … Hopefully it's a live conversation by phone or by Skype or FaceTime or any of the mediums you're actually having face time with peers that are at a distance.”

Fr. Ignatius said displaced students should also make time for charity, especially by picking up the phone.

“Just consider the consolation and the blessing that a grandson or a granddaughter could give to someone who's isolated and scared. It makes all the difference in the world to have just a 15 or 20 minute conversation with the grandparents and just think beyond one's own interests,” he said.

The priest added that students might also consider offering virtual tutoring to children they know have been displaced from school, or, if local laws permit it, offering snacks or essentials to homeless people while taking a walk.

Fr. Ignatius emphasized that the pandemic is an opportunity to reignite a neglected prayer life. He suggested students might pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or spend time reading scripture. He also pointed to resources from groups like FOCUS, which have made spiritual resources available online.

Nguyen, the FOCUS missionary, also stressed the importance of reinvigorating a prayer life, noting that too much free-time can become its own kind distraction from prayer. He said during these difficult times, it is important to rely on the Lord.

“I think the notion of free time is a little scary because [in] school they have all these activities and they have classes and they have their  sacramental life ….It's scheduled out and so there's a certain safety and security in order that we as Catholics know is there,” Nguyen told CNA.

“If we're in the crucible right now with the Lord, the one thing that will help sustain us is daily conversation and prayer with him.”

Nguyen pointed to some of the virtual options the students have available for them at Harvard. He said FOCUS at the university has started online events, including Bible studies and virtual praise and worship sessions, which last Sunday drew around 200 hundreds views from students.

“We believe the word of God is so effective, especially in this trying time. I think … people are kind of longing for a sense of spiritual nourishment,” he said.

While FOCUS has launched its discipleship program online as well, he said, the most important aspect is to focus on accountability and personal investment through consistent contact with these students, Nguyen said..

“In this time, we're still doing virtual things in order to continue to minister to our students who we encourage to their friends through the use of Zoom and in conversation on the phone, et cetera… Personal investment is probably the most important thing that we can be doing right now,” he said.

 

Texas coronavirus abortion rule back in effect, after court grants stay

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A Texas order prohibiting most abortions during the novel coronavirus pandemic is temporarily back in effect, after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on a federal district court ruling on Tuesday.

After the Western District Court of Texas on Monday allowed elective abortions to continue in the state of Texas during the coronavirus pandemic through a restraining order, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit issued the temporary stay on the district court’s ruling on Tuesday.

“UPDATE: Victory at 5th Circuit - Abortion ruling stayed!” tweeted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the result.

Paxton had previously filed for appellate review at the Fifth Circuit, after the Western District Court of Texas on Monday halted the state’s executive order from going into effect that would have restricted most abortions during the new coronavirus pandemic.

The stay issued by the Fifth Circuit on Tuesday will give the court more time to consider Texas’ executive order, the judges wrote. 

However, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck saw the circuit court’s decision as a sign that the case will soon make its way to the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court decided in favor of Louisiana’s abortion safety regulations, which require that an abortion doctor have admitting privilges at a nearby hospital. That case is now being considered by the Supreme Court.

Circuit court judge James Dennis dissented from the panel’s ruling, noting that “[a] federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the Executive Order to prohibit abortions during this critical time.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the executive order (GA 09) on March 22 halting non-essential surgeries and medical procedures during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in order to free up resources and medical personnel to treat COVID patients.

Abbott clarified that the order would apply to “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed an emergency lawsuit in a federal district court to continue elective abortions in Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the court granted a temporary restraining order to allow abortions to continue. Federal judges in Ohio and Alabama also halted similar state restrictions on elective abortions from going into effect.

Paxton then filed for appellate review at the Fifth Circuit court on Monday. He said in his petition to the Fifth Circuit that the district court’s decision “endangers lives and hinders the State of Texas’s efforts to combat the deadly novel coronavirus.”

“The State of Texas faces today its most serious public-health emergency in over a century,” he wrote, noting that the executive order halting non-essential surgeries and procedures was meant to conserve “personal protective equipment (PPE)” for the expected surge in new coronavirus patients at hospitals.

“Exempting abortions from the three-week pause that applies to everyone else would deplete scarce PPE, reduce hospital capacity, and risk spreading COVID-19 to hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals across the State,” he wrote.

Majority of Americans praying for end to coronavirus, survey finds

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A majority of Americans say they have prayed for an end to the novel coronavirus, including some who say they rarely or never pray, a new survey reports.

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, published on Monday, 55% of Americans have prayed for an end to the pandemic, including slightly more than two-thirds (68%) of Catholics.

The survey of 11,537 U.S. adults was conducted between March 19 and 24, and asked Americans about their attitudes during the coronavirus outbreak, including their prayer life.

There are more than 823,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, including more than 175,000 cases in the U.S.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there were 2,860 deaths from the virus as of 4 p.m. EDT Monday.

According to the survey, 15% of those who “seldom or never pray” also say they have prayed for an end to the pandemic, and even 36% of those whose religion is “nothing in particular” say they have prayed about the virus.

In line with stay-at-home orders active in many places, the Pew survey also found fewer people are attending religious services in person; 59% of those who normally attend services at least once or twice per month said they had scaled back their attendence. But, among the same group, a simialry percentage —57%—reported watching religious services online or on TV during the pandemic instead of attending services in person.

And among Catholics who attended Mass at least once or twice a month, 55% said they have attended less often during the coronavirus, and 46% said they were watching Mass online or on TV instead of attending in person.

Catholic bishops around the country began suspending public masses in March, with the Seattle archdiocese as the first to do so on March 11, followed by all other dioceses in the U.S.

As bishops have halted public Masses during the pandemic, however, they have also exhorted Catholics to deepen their own prayer lives.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated on March 13 that “[n]ow is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices for the love of God and the love of our neighbor,” and called on Catholics to pray in unity with Pope Francis for the sick, health care workers, and civic leaders.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh issued a pastoral letter on March 20 “The Other Side of Corona,” noting that the mass closures of offices and schools, mass layoffs and the suspension of public Masses as a result of the coronavirus “is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Jesus.” He called on Catholics to pray to God for protection from the virus and for comfort for all those afflicted.

Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia asked Catholics to join Pope Francis in prayer for an end to the pandemic on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

On March 27, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, “to the city and the world,” from St. Peter’s Basilica during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love,” Pope Francis said during a holy hour that included Eucharistic adoration and the blessing.

Churches closed in Maryland, not Virginia, after governors’ orders

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore has closed all churches to private prayer and instructed priests to only offer sacraments in cases of “impending death.”

The decision, announced Monday by Archbishop William Lori, is in response to the “Stay-at-Home” directive issued by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on March 30. 

“Like Governor Hogan, I want to take every precaution and every step necessary to ensure the health of the people we serve,” Archbishop Lori said on Monday.

Under the stay-at-home order, all Marylanders are instructed to remain in their homes and may only leave for certain reasons, such as daily exercise, travelling for medical reasons, going to the grocery store and conducting other “essential” business. 

Churches and other houses of worship are not classified as “essential” by the Maryland order. 

As a result, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that all church buildings and offices in the archdiocese are to close, and priests are to cease the regular distribution of all sacraments, including confessions, until further notice. Until Monday, churches in the Baltimore archdiocese were permitted to open for private prayer, but only to for 10 people or less at a time.

“While no bishop wants to ever close a church to one seeking closeness to God," Lori said, "I pray that in doing so we prevent further suffering, further death and will be closer to the day when we can reopen our church doors to the people we so deeply love and miss.”

In a Facebook post on the official account for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, it was clarified that there would be no sacraments at this time and that priests were not allowed to privately meet with parishioners. 

“No confessions or other sacraments except in cases of impending death. No in-person appointments. All parish offices remain closed as well,” said the archdiocese.

Maryland Catholics are further prohibited from traveling to a nearby diocese that is still offering sacraments. According to Hogan’s website, “No Marylander should be traveling outside of the state unless such travel is absolutely necessary. Those who have traveled outside of the state should self-quarantine for 14 days.”

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which also has parishes in Maryland, has yet to announce any new measures in response to the governor’s order. The archdiocese did not respond to a request from CNA for comment by the time of posting. 

A similar executive order in neighboring Virginia permits residents to travel to church. 

Places of worship are now listed as an acceptable reason for Virginians to leave their homes during a statewide stay-at-home directive. 

Executive Order Fifty-Five, also issued on Monday, from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, requires that Virginians remain at their homes and to practice social distancing if they do go outside. The Virginia order went into effect on March 30, and has an end date of June 10, although that may be shortened or extended if necessary. 

The executive order lists nine permissible reasons for people to leave their homes, including “Traveling to and from one’s residence, place of worship, or work.” 

However, places of worship are still not permitted to hold services with more than 10 people in attendance.

“All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited. This includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social events, whether they occur indoor or outdoor,” said Northam in the order. 

Previously, an executive order from Northam did not include churches in a list of essential locations, and any “non-essential” business--including churches--found to have more than 10 people inside would be subject to criminal penalties. 

“Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship,” states a webpage of frequently asked questions about Executive Order 53 on the state government website. 

“Places of worship that do conduct in-person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.”

Both of Virginia’s Catholic dioceses have already suspended the public celebration of Mass in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and parishes are instructed to allow no more than 10 worshippers in churches at any time. 

Parish buildings largely remain open for private prayer, and some parishes have continued to offer confessions while observing social distancing.