Archbishop says worshippers need to gather in response to virus outbreak

Archbishop Bernard Hebda
Archbishop Bernard Hebda speaks during a news conference at St. Paul Cathedral in March 2016. Hebda says parishes have been working to reopen safely, including changes to deliver communion with masks at the end of Mass as churchgoers exit.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP 2016

Twin Cities Archbishop Bernard Hebda talked with Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, making his case for allowing church services to resume, as the state relaxes COVID-19 restrictions.

Hebda told MPR News host Tom Crann that his church and others needed to attend again to their congregations, in person.

“We think that what faith communities provide is essential. And when we consider the number of people in the amount of time that they might be spending in a mall, we think that we were able to provide an option that is far safer than that,” he said. “And that really gets to the needs of so many of our people who over the last eight weeks have spoken about what a great pain it is for them not to be able to receive the Eucharist.”

That comes as health officials repeated their warnings that gatherings of more than 10, activities like choir performances and rehearsals, passing a collection basket and communion could rapidly spread the coronavirus.

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Hebda said that Catholic churches in Minnesota would agree to limit service attendance, require parishioners to wear masks, and change protocol for communion, avoid congregational singing, and urge vulnerable people to wait to return to church until it is safer.

“We would urge our priests to keep Mass to a bare minimum, to keep the time people are together for a bare minimum,” Hebda said. “But we think we’re able to do that in a way that would be reverent, would meet the needs, and be really consistent with the safety message we have been hearing from the governor.”

Hebda also acknowledged that the virus has spread with church-related contact. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report traced an outbreak in an Arkansas church that started with a pair of pastors, and eventually sickened dozens and killed four.

“No parish is obligated to do this,” Hebda said. “Obviously, the virus is very strong, it's not to be unexpected that a priest or a member of the faithful would be affected by that. The question is — how do we respond to that? There are always those risks.”

He also added that finances weren’t a significant factor in the church’s decision, even though collection plates have sat unused for months.

“You’d be amazed at how generous people have been at this time,” he said.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full interview.