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Minnesota’s Catholic bishops say they’ll defy Walz’ limits on church attendance

By MPR News Staff

Minnesota’s Roman Catholic bishops said Wednesday that they will allow Masses to resume next week despite Gov. Tim Walz’s continued prohibition on most religious gatherings.

Twin Cities Archbishop Bernard Hebda and the state’s five other diocesan leaders say they’re giving parishes permission to resume public Masses on May 26, just ahead of Pentecost on May 31.

In a letter, the bishops said parishes are not required to resume services, and no Catholics are obliged to attend.

Churches must follow sanitation protocols, and limit attendance to a third of seating capacity.

The clerics noted that the dioceses voluntarily suspended public Masses before Walz issued his orders, and they’ve been urging him to allow larger religious gatherings in his latest executive order.

The bishops said it “defies reason” to allow malls to reopen while continuing to prohibit more than 10 people from gathering in a cathedral that can seat thousands.

Walz spokesperson Teddy Tschann issued this statement in response on Wednesday night:

As the Governor has said, this is a challenging situation for him personally and a challenging situation for him as a public official charged with protecting the health and safety of Minnesotans. He remains in routine communication with faith leaders across the state and understands the toll this pandemic is taking on the spiritual health of Minnesotans. Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health will be meeting with the Archdiocese this week.
Lutheran leaders from Wisconsin and Missouri synods, as well as Evangelical Lutheran Synod also criticized the Walz administration over his COVID-19 policy. In a separate letter forwarded by the Archdiocese, the Lutherans noted the Constitutional guarantee of freedom to exercise religious belief and said the prohibition of “people from gathering together in a church regardless of its size, but allowing malls and other ‘non-critical’ businesses to open, fails to uphold that guarantee.

“We have accordingly chosen to move forward in the absence of a timeline from Gov. Walz. We cannot allow an indefinite suspension of in-person worship,” the Lutherans said.

They also plan to reopen buildings for “public gatherings” on May 26, with the first Sunday services on May 31. The Lutherans recommend their churches limit attendance, sanitize spaces and practice social distancing.

Earlier in the day, Steve Grove, the state’s employment and economic development commissioner, told reporters that expanding religious services — including allowing outdoor services of up to 100 people — would be part of Minnesota’s next phase of loosening restrictions on daily life. However, he did not say when that would happen.

Walz said his administration wants to reopen houses of worship as soon as it’s safe.

“I think there is a very strong sense of urgency for us to figure this piece around churches,” he said. “I say that about all business, but I do think these pieces of people’s lives we need to try to get it around.”