TUCSON, Ariz. (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Arizona prelate is announcing a new ban on public Masses and sacraments, suspending "public worship" for up to four months — and perhaps longer.
"At this time we're returning to the protocols we were following just prior to the reopening of our parishes," he elaborated.
The bishop said Tucson Catholics "should anticipate a suspension of approximately four weeks but the matter will be reviewed daily and the suspension could be for a shorter or longer duration."
Based on Arizona lawmakers' concerns about "a substantial spike in COVID-19 cases," he said, "I have been advised by diocesan leadership to suspend public worship."
The bishop recommends the faithful check with their "local parish for televised or internet Masses" or log onto the diocese of Tucson web page and join him for daily livestreamed Masses.
The diocese of Tucson has 75 parishes. As of press time, 23 parishes had a link to their online services on the diocese website.
Weisenburger joins another prelate, Bp. Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, in banning Catholics from the sacraments, disrupting "religious expression and movement" of the faithful.
These moves are raising serious alarm among Catholics.
In May, Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò issued an open letter addressed to Catholics and all people of goodwill, urging them to guard their rights against the tyranny imposed on them under the pretext of protection from the Wuhan virus.
Archbishop Viganò said in the letter: "The facts have shown that, under the pretext of the COVID-19 epidemic, the inalienable rights of citizens have in many cases been violated and their fundamental freedoms, including the exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement, have been disproportionately and unjustifiably restricted."
One Church lawyer points out that such decrees as Weisenburger's are illegal.
Bishops' conferences have "absolutely no authority" to make decrees canceling all public Masses, according to canonist Catherine Caridi, creator of the popular blog Canon Law Made Easy. "The law is clear ... according to canon 455 it [such a decree] is invalid."
A conference of bishops can only issue general decrees in cases where either (a) universal law has prescribed it, or (b) a special mandate of the Apostolic See has established it (c. 455.1), Caridi clarifies, noting that "universal law definitely does not authorize conferences of bishops to cancel Mass throughout their territory."
"If priests are being told in your country that 'all public Masses must be canceled, by order of the bishops' conference,' this directive has no legal weight and should be disregarded," emphasizes the canonist, who has received hundreds of letters from concerned Catholics all over the world lamenting the bans.
Many faithful throughout the world have expressed spiritual distress at being deprived of Holy Mass and the sacraments.
When the archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron, dragged his feet on church openings and access to the Holy Eucharist, for example, a group of Catholic faithful gathered outside Detroit's Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in May petitioning for full worship rights.
One of the organizers of the gathering, called "Operation Be Not Afraid," pointed out that "Early Christians risked their lives for the Mass. We expect no less of our Church leaders."
Another organizer, speaking to the archbishop through a press release, pointed to the priests' responsibility to provide the spiritual food of the Holy Eucharist to their flocks: "We expect you to show the courage of Christ. Be our shepherd," adding, "We need holy boldness in our leaders."
"We need the hands that have touched the hands of Christ through unbroken succession," she said.
President Trump has often weighed in about the importance of public worship.
In 2018, he declared Jan. 16 Religious Freedom Day, proclaiming: "The free exercise of religion is a source of personal and national stability, and its preservation is essential to protecting human dignity."
"Faith breathes life and hope into our world," the president continued. "We must diligently guard, preserve and cherish this unalienable right."
Bishop Weisenburger expressed "hope" that the lapse in public worship would be brief. "But," he said, "We owe it to our health care workers — along with the most vulnerable among us — to take this temporary step."