On Wednesday morning, March 25, I participated in a conference call with Gov. Walz and the other Minnesota bishops to talk about the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and the important role churches continue to play in meeting the spiritual needs of our people. As you know, later that day, Gov. Walz issued a “stay-at-home” executive order, which is in effect from 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27, through Friday, April 10, at 5 p.m.
It is very important to comply with the specific requirements and spirit of the order for the health and well-being of all Minnesotans. Many of you understandably have questions about how this might affect your priestly ministry and parish operations. While it would be impossible to address every question in this regard, I wanted to give you guidance on a few of the most-common questions likely to arise.
Q: Can I still offer livestreaming of Masses and devotions?
A: Yes, the governor’s order makes a specific exemption allowing this to continue. The exemption “includes workers necessary to plan, record, and distribute online or broadcast content to community members.” However, I highly recommend that you limit those who participate in these Masses to no more than yourself and a maximum of four other people. This is an extremely important time to limit contact with others.
Please continue to celebrate your private Masses every day.
Q: Can I still offer the sacrament of reconciliation to individuals outdoors or in our church building.
A: The order does not address this specifically, but I see no reason why you cannot continue to offer the sacrament, but it must be by appointment only. You also must follow the guidelines provided by the state Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control, including maintaining a 6-foot distance between you and the penitent.
It is permissible to provide the sacrament of anointing of the sick as well as the sacrament of reconciliation to any patient/resident in a care facility if requested by the resident or their family AND if you have permission from the head of the facility. You may wish to notify nursing homes and similar facilities in your area of this possibility. Of course, you must also be comfortable providing this ministry in the setting available at the time and follow safety precautions to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
Q: Can our church buildings remain open to the public for adoration and other prayer?
A: No. I believe keeping churches open for adoration and other prayer would not be within the parameters of the governor’s executive order.
Q: Can our parish distribute palms on Palm Sunday by blessing them privately and leaving them in the back of Church for individuals to pick up?
A: No. I believe this would not be within the parameters of the governor’s executive order.
Q: Should our parish offices remain “open,” and can staff still come to work?
A: Parish offices should be closed, and activity in parish buildings limited to the pastor and staff members designated by the pastor as essential to assist with payroll services, deposits, paying invoices and producing bulletins.
Q: Looking ahead, what should we do about Divine Mercy Sunday events/devotions?
A: Divine Mercy Sunday (April 19) comes at a time when there will likely still be restrictions on public gatherings. Please plan on canceling these events; if the situation changes, I will notify you.
If you have other questions, please contact Fr. Rolfes at (320) 251-2340, (320)-493-4779 (cell), or firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the current situation, however, he may not be immediately available to answer your questions. If a situation requires a quick decision and Father Rolfes is not available, please use your prudential judgment to make the best possible decision in light of what I’ve outlined here and the guidelines set forth by the governor and health authorities.
Thank you for your commitment to your ministry and for the sacrifices you — and your people — are making in this challenging time. We will get through together by supporting one another however we can. I will continue to pray for you, and I ask you to continue to pray for me.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud