For months, the faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord have been denied their ability to attend Mass. In some instances, the doors to the church have literally been locked in the face of faithful Catholics who desired to sit in (while observing social distancing and not receiving Holy Communion) for the televised Masses some parishes provide. This, despite the Michigan governor specifically exempting houses of worship from prosecution if they were to remain open during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In the Diocese of Gaylord, Bishop Raica announced the prohibition of Masses in a letter dated March 13, 2020. This was over a week before Governor Whitmer declared a lockdown of the state on March 23.
Recent data has shown that lockdowns do not change the incidence of Coronavirus in a state. Seven states did not have a lockdown and their Coronavirus cases per million residents and deaths per million residents were not increased whatsoever compared to neighboring states with lockdowns. More recently, the governor of New York announced the results of a survey of 1,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. He was shocked to note that 84% of these patients were in lockdown when they got sick. Data has consistently shown that healthy people under the age of 60 have little to no risk of severe illness or death with Coronavirus infection. Despite this, Bishop Raica (and the priests of the Diocese) denied faithful Catholics the ability to attend ANY Masses during this time. This has led to, among other consequences, a decrease in donations to the Diocese; the response from the Diocese has been to seek governmental assistance thereby rendering the separation of Church and State mute. Many have expressed concerns that these actions will lead to a sharp decline in Church attendance. A recent directive by Bishop Raica may exacerbate these problems.
On May 12, Bishop Raica announced that churches in the Diocese of Gaylord would reopen. However, the announcement included confusing, vague or even incorrect directives. Here are some of the highlights:
- “Protocols have been developed through a committee working with the Director of Worship, that have considered expert advice from the medical field and liturgical experts. The protocols are meant to complement the wise guidance of the federal, state and local health agencies for the sake of the common good.” Who are the members of this committee? What are their protocols? What is the “expert advice” that was used to formulate these protocols? Like the Sexual Misconduct Review Board, the Diocese hides its mandates behind a cloud of bureaucratic fog.
- “Expect that you will not see everyone at Mass. In the Diocese of Gaylord, dispensation from
your Sunday obligation is extended through Sunday, September 6, 2020.” This seems odd since the virus is decreasing in incidence in Michigan and stores like Walmart and Home Depot are fully open. Since the risk of death or serious illness is virtually non-existent in healthy people under the age of 60, why would Bishop Raica offer dispensation until September? Does he not want people to attend Mass?
- “Not all will feel comfortable returning to public worship right away and some people should not return right away, including those over 65 years of age and those in a higher-risk category because of health
issues and those who are currently ill. However, if you wish to return to Mass your Sunday
obligation may be fulfilled at any Mass during the week.” Based on discussions with multiple priests, the attendance at Mass on a weekday cannot fulfill a Sunday obligation according to Canon Law.
- “Expect that not all parishioners will be able to attend Mass on a Sunday because of reduced
capacity. Churches are not to exceed 25% capacity in order to maintain proper social distancing.” What does this mean? Will there be parishioners turned away at the door if the number of people showing up is too high? Maybe the dispensation granted until September 6 as well as the instruction of those older than 65 not to attend Mass will keep the Mass attendance so low that this won’t be an issue.
- “Expect the music to be led only by the musician and cantor. Or, you may not have any music at
all for a while.” Some of our readers, based on the music they have had to endure in the past, are hoping for the latter option.
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