Petition to Ohio Bishops to Restore Access to the Sacraments
Most Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati
Most Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati
Most Rev. Robert J. Brennan, Bishop of Columbus
Most Rev. Jeffrey M. Monforton, Bishop of Steubenville
Most Rev. George V. Murry, S.J. Bishop of Youngstown
Rev. Donald P. Oleksiak, Diocesan Administrator of Cleveland
Most Rev. Daniel E. Thomas, Bishop of Toledo
Most Rev. J. Michael Botean, Romanian Eparchy of Canton
Most Rev. Bohdan J. Danylo, Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Josaphat
Most Rev. Milan Lach, SJ Byzantine Eparchy of Parm
We hope and pray that this letter finds you well. Happy Easter to you and your loved ones, and to all those under your care.
We understand that you and your Episcopal brethren are weighing the risks to the physical health of your flocks and, on the other hand, their Spiritual health. While we understand the legitimate concerns that the Coronavirus has raised, and the need to make efforts to safeguard the faithful, with all due respect, we believe that more can and must be done to tend to our spiritual needs. It is difficult to overstate the impact that the removal of the Sacraments for these past 6 weeks has had on the members of the Body of Christ. With the prospect of this untenable situation continuing for another month or more, the urgency to address this tremendous Spiritual deficit becomes even greater. We the undersigned would like to ask you as our Spiritual shepherds to seek creative means to restore the Sacraments to the Faithful, while making efforts to cooperate with civil government in mitigating the spread of the virus. We believe that there are many areas of opportunity to explore, some of which we share below:
• Open the Churches: This should be an arms-length solution which would pose no problems with social distancing guidelines and good hygiene. With Churches included in the revised order as an “Essential Service”, anyone wishing to travel to a Church should have no issue doing so. There is simply no good reason for any Church to be closed, if reasonable guidelines are practiced. Your encouragement to the Pastors in your Dioceses to follow this directive would be welcomed and appreciated.
• “Parking Lot” Masses: These have been used in other Dioceses, and locally by Protestant denominations for their services, with the formal approval of State and local authorities. As the Faithful stay in their cars throughout, there is essentially no transmission risk (with the exception of receiving Holy Communion for those who choose to do so). While far less than ideal, these Masses allow the Faithful to assist at the Mass, rather than simply watching it on TV, which as you know is a far different thing. The risk is extremely low, the spiritual value inestimable, and once again, this can be done in a compliance with current civil guidelines.
• Outdoor Masses: Studies show that the virus has a very short life outside, and rates of transmission outside are exceptionally low. Sites could be identified which would allow adequate spacing, with a more intimate experience than the above noted Parking Lot Masses.
• Confession: Referencing the above ideas for making the Mass available, “Drive Through” and outdoor confessions, as well as the use of appropriate spacing and barriers, have extremely limited risk of transmission, but incalculable spiritual benefits. As discussed above, these also fall into the category of “Essential Services”, and meet civil guidelines for social distancing. They should be made widely available to the Faithful without delay. Once again, your encouragement of your Pastors in this area would be a great service to the Faithful.
We appreciate your consideration of the suggestions outlined in this letter. As you well know, the importance of the public celebration of the Mass and the availability of the Sacraments goes well beyond that of providing emotional support to the faithful; it is central to who we are as Catholics. They were instituted by Christ himself, who enjoined us to have frequent recourse to them. The graces they impart simply cannot be replicated nearly as effectively in “virtual” representations. As such, it is imperative, that with reasonable precautions put in place, they be resumed immediately.