All five Catholic bishops in Washington state have issued a statement in response to comments by President Donald Trump which explains that public masses were suspended “out of our deepest respect for human life and health” amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The statement was a stunning rejoinder to Trump’s demand Friday that all houses of worship be reopened “right now” for religious services, which he has deemed “essential.” He called it an “injustice” that churches, synagogues and mosques aren’t open.
Trump vowed to “override governors” who failed to follow his orders. Trump didn’t say what he would do if religious leaders ignored his demand.
“In response to President Trump’s statement … we want to let you know that public celebration was suspended, not out of fear, but out of the deepest respect for human life and health,” the bishops wrote Friday. “As disciples of Jesus, we are called on to be instruments of God’s protection for the vulnerable and the public good.”
“Our love of God and neighbor is always personal and not partisan,” the statement added. ” While we share the desire to bring people back to Mass as quickly as possible, we will wait to schedule our public worship when it is safe and we are prepared to do so.”
The statement followed several criticisms from other faith leaders Friday saying that Trump’s insistence on restarting religious services failed to recognize the fundamental tenet of loving — and protecting — your neighbor as yourself.
There is no date set yet for restarting Catholic Masses in Washington, the bishops said. Catholic officials are working with health experts to establish safety guidelines and protocols.
“It is our hope that our right to responsibly and safely gather for worship will soon be honored so we can collaborate in a manner that respects both our Catholic tradition as well as our civic responsibilities,” the statement concluded.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said Thursday that churches within his jurisdiction will slowly re-open and in different manners “region by region, parish by parish.” New protocols will include smaller services with spaced seating, regular sanitation and disinfecting of churches, a ban on physical contact, hand sanitizer stations at entrances, and the temporary cessation of all non-essential gatherings, The Crux reported.
Sources told Politico that Trump’s sudden announcement about reopening houses of worship was driven by recent polls showing that the president’s support among white evangelicals and white Catholics was eroding.
Legal experts say Trump has no authority to override governors’ decisions on when to allow house of worship to reopen.