New Wave of Church Closures in El Paso

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by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 8, 2020   

Bishop bans public Masses, weddings, funerals

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EL PASO, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Texas prelate is pumping the brakes on his diocese's reopening plan, pushing back some provisions and making them more stringent than even Texas state guidelines recommend.

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Bp. Mark Seitz

El Paso bishop Mark Seitz is allegedly making the move because of a "steep rise" in the community's rate of COVID-19 spread. Seitz made the announcement in a pastoral letter sent out July 6 to church officials and parishioners.

The bishop did not give numbers, but he said, "We are currently seeing more daily positive test results and considerably more hospitalizations in El Paso County than in the entire state of New Mexico."

Just a few days ago, he decided the diocese would hold steady at Phase II of El Paso's reopening plan, but after hearing from clergy and administrators that parishioners are not following social-distancing guidelines, he's decided to dial things back.

The bishop's decision means that weddings, funeral Masses, as well as Word services or Rosaries led by church personnel at funeral homes are now prohibited.

"Wedding Masses and quinceañeras will need to be postponed until such time as the virus is not so prevalent. Memorial Masses for the deceased will also be arranged at that time."

Weddings, funeral Masses, as well as Word services or Rosaries led by church personnel at funeral homes are now prohibited.

The bishop said he would permit "gatherings at gravesides with 10 people or less," providing masks are used and social-distancing guidelines are followed. The state of Texas allows gatherings of up to 10 people, either indoors or outdoors.


 

The diocese's mandate takes effect on July 9, although no reopening date or timeline was suggested. 

"Our priority must be the well-being of all our members," Seitz wrote in the letter.

Committed Clergy

Seitz's move to ban weddings runs in stark contrast to the case of the traditionalist priest who solemnized the marriage of a couple during the Wuhan virus lockdown in Cardiff, Wales in May — when lockdown regulations permitted locals to leave home only for essentials.

In a letter to the archbishop defending his decision to marry the couple, the priest said: "As a priest, I must put the salvation of souls above every other consideration, even my own peace of mind and risk from infection," the Welsh priest wrote. "If 'the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls,' then I have broken no law that I can suffer for eternally." 

As a priest, I must put the salvation of souls above every other consideration, even my own peace of mind and risk from infection.

Another clergy member familiar with the unique pastoral needs of the minority community the priest serves said the couple is representative of "the only surviving yet consistently faithful remnant who explicitly live out the Church's teaching regarding chastity." 

"[Parents] request weddings with little notice, expressly, to protect the virtue of their youngsters in their effort to avoid 'the occasion of sin,'" he noted.

Seitz's letter also runs counter to the spirit of a homily delivered on Corpus Christi Sunday by Fr. Cameron Faller at Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco.

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Fr. Cameron Faller

Speaking of the sacraments overall and the Holy Eucharist, in particular, Fr. Faller said the pandemic has made clear that "certain things are so necessary that you need to break social-distancing protocol in order to do them." 

"People needed to gather together in a physical time and a physical space, physically close to one another," he said. "Why? Because we are embodied spirits." 

He pointed to the recent protesters who believed so strongly in their cause that "livestream wasn't good enough."

Casting aspersions at no one in particular, Fr. Faller administered a spiritual report card for the pandemic period. "I don't think the revelation of the Church's faith has been very good," he said. "What we have revealed to the world is that government ordinances are more important than the ordinances of God." 

Priorities Evident

Bishop Seitz made the news recently for taking a knee June 1 with other clergy and parishioners at a Black Lives Matter rally in El Paso.

A spokesman for the diocese, Fernando Ceniceros, told Catholic News Agency that, for Seitz, "This is a social justice issue, obviously." 

As to the flexibility pastors and administrators at individual parishes can exercise with regards to his new COVID-19 restrictions, Seitz said, "They [can] choose in their individual parish settings [to] be more restrictive than what is permitted in these guidelines."

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