CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Catholic church leaders from Chicago, Joliet, and Rockford are spelling out their plans for resuming masses and other services, but it does not appear large church gatherings will be happening any time soon.
"These 50 days of Easter, leading to Pentecost, are marked by unprecedented suffering, as humanity has fallen victim to a perilous contagion. In addition to the threats to our physical wellbeing, we are suffering spiritually as the COVID-19 pandemic has required restrictions of our worship and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Surely, there have been moments in history when governments and rulers have persecuted Christians and banned their public worship. This is not one of them," Cardinal Blase Cupich wrote in a letter. "Rather, the present restrictions come in response to an extreme medical emergency as local, state and federal authorities – specifically public health officials – legitimately fulfill their responsibilities to safeguard human life and the common good. They have based their reasonable guidance on careful consideration of empirical data and the best available disease-mitigation practices as they seek to contain the pandemic’s rampage through our communities."
The Archdiocese of Chicago, Diocese of Joliet, and Diocese of Rockford, which collectively oversee churches in 20 counties throughout the region, announced Wednesday identical plans setting requirements and a timetable for reopening.
Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich, Rockford’s Bishop David Malloy, and Joliet’s Apostolic Administrator Richard Pates said their two-phase reopening plan was made in conjunction with Governor JB Pritzker.
Phase 1 would allow parishes to have baptisms, reconciliations, weddings, and funerals with 10 or fewer people attending, as early as May 23. Phase 1A would allow “private prayer and adoration” sessions with 10 or fewer people attending, as early as May 30. No public weekday or weekend masses would be allowed, even with 10 or fewer people.
Phase 2 would allow “reopening for weekday and weekend Masses for larger groups” based on the situation in a given church or parish. No potential start date was given.
According to the dioceses, in order to initiate the phases, parishes would have a handful of “non-vulnerable volunteers” trained by next week, in order to implement the reopening process. Those volunteers will begin training via a webinar on May 18.
Parishes will also need a certificate of readiness before launching Phase 1.
Through ongoing discussions with pastors, health care professionals, and civil authorities, there will be a review of the plan at each stage with "an eye to making adjustments in accord with new data."
In a letter, Cardinal Cupich said Catholics "should also be motivated to cooperate with public safety norms, given our reverence for life and human dignity. This is, at its heart, a moment to proclaim the breadth and depth of what it means to be pro-life, particularly as this virus preys on the most vulnerable in our midst."
Cardinal Cupich said he expects people will be attending masses online and by TV for weeks to come.
"Since our movements will be restricted as that plan unfolds in different phases, your pastors and bishops will continue for the present time to offer Mass in private each day and to livestream and broadcast Masses from our parishes and the archdiocese," Cupich said. "These celebrations surely are not the same as gathering in our churches for Mass, but I know from hearing from many parishioners that they provide a great deal of solace and support in this time of uncertainty. We must be honest. We expect this situation to continue for some weeks, and any plan for reopening our churches for public worship must include every precaution to ensure public gatherings do not create a second wave of contagion, thus squandering the gains made through our sacrifice in these days."