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.
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