Erie Diocese announces plans for gradual return to worship

From staff reports

As all 13 counties in the Erie Catholic Diocese have moved into the state’s yellow phase for reopening, Bishop Lawrence T. Persico has announced the diocese will take a gradual approach to restoring public worship in northwest Pennsylvania.

The diocese outlined several general protocols in a press release issued Friday. They include:

– The suspension of all public Masses remains in effect.

– The dispensation from Sunday and holy day Mass obligations remains in place.

– A dispensation from the Easter duty of sacramental confession is granted throughout the diocese.

– Livestreaming of Masses (both daily and Sunday) will continue wherever feasible.

– Spiritual Communion will continue to be strongly encouraged.

– Regular pastoral visits to hospitals and to the home-bound remain suspended. Priests and deacons only (no lay ministers) may visit the homebound for emergency sacramental visits.

In addition, permission has been restored for pastors to schedule periods of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well as times for confessions, effective Sunday.

Each pastor has the freedom to determine how and when to implement these events, the diocese said..

Priests in the diocese have been asked to meet with other priests in their regions over the next two weeks to discuss preparing for possible next steps. Of immediate concern is how to make the Eucharist available to people, the diocese said.

Bishop Persico will host a virtual town hall on the topic at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21. Parishioners will be invited to sign up for the event through Zoom beginning next week and will be able to submit questions by email for Persico.

The event will later be posted on the diocesan website.

“I know people are longing to return to Mass and, especially, to receive the Eucharist,” Persico said. “Protocols are complex, and I do not want to begin opening and then have to pull back again. It’s my intention to lift restrictions gradually so that we don’t create dangerous situations for our parishioners or our priests, and that we don’t contribute to a spike in COVID-19 cases,” the bishop added.

The Priest Council, which has advised the bishop, will convene again May 20 to continue discussing the best ways and a timeframe for moving forward.

Persico has spent the last several weeks in conversation with numerous advisors as well as reviewing the protocols and information provided by the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, the diocese said.

“I know many people are expecting us to open the doors and return to life as we knew it,” Persico said. “But as much as we all are eagerly anticipating that situation, the reality is we must proceed with caution.”

Persico said that the counties that have been moved to the yellow phase still have considerable restrictions and that he is committed to observing them.