I was raised to believe the Catholic Church had greater regard for human life than your average shopping mall.
Instead, Minnesota’s Catholic and conservative Lutheran churches are making plans to reopen in the middle of a pandemic and before state health officials say it’s safe.
After all, the malls are reopening. Restaurants and bars are reopening their patios. Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is reopening.
For long, lonely months, the faithful have been isolated, tuning in to televised church services and Zoom prayer meetings. People of faith, cut off from their communities of faith, just when they needed them most.
Surely, church leaders argued, houses of worship are more essential to Minnesota than its largest candy store.
Even though staying home from church never killed anybody.
Even though rushing back to church too soon just might.
Minnesotans are scared and grieving and frustrated and they long for the consolation of their church.
Easter mass at the Basilica of St. Mary was reduced to a livestream. Later, Archbishop Bernard Hebda stood on a sidewalk, blessing a line of parishioners as they pulled up to the curb in their cars — as close as they could get to the consolation of the sacraments, the voices of the choir and the scent of incense and beeswax on the holiest day of the year.
Easter was 40 days ago. The Minnesota Catholic Conference reasoned that if frivolous commerce can reopen by the end of May, parishioners deserve to be back in the pews by Pentecost.
Most of the state’s newly reopened businesses “cannot be classified as essential,” Hebda wrote this week. Not as essential as “the life of faith.”
“[F]aith has always been a source of comfort and strength and now more than ever it is of the utmost importance that we are able to meet the spiritual needs of our community,” Hebda wrote.
The Catholic conference and the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — who the rest of Minnesota Lutherans would like you to know do not speak for them — are promising every precaution as they defy the state’s pandemic plan. They promise masks, deep cleaning, and houses of worship no more than a third full.
They took precautions at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston, Texas, too, when they reopened earlier this month. Now they’re burying one of their priests, other priests and parishioners have tested positive for COVID-19 and the church is closed again.
Maybe we can’t save everyone from this pandemic.
But I expected the churches to try.