Restrictions put in place by Oregon and Washington’s governors to slow the spread of COVID-19 will impact every aspect of life, habits and traditions.
Particularly in the Portland-Vancouver area’s Catholic churches, home to more than half a million Catholics, all of whom are on the cusp of the time of year when church attendance increases during a season of faith.
Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown allows churches and faith groups to accommodate indoor crowds no larger than 25. The mandates lasts at least two weeks statewide and four weeks in Multnomah County. In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee limited religious services to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer
“It seems strange to us,” said Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample. “No one has a constitutional right to go to a restaurant, a bar or a gym. But there is a right to the free exercise of religion.”
Sample said Catholics can’t worship virtually.
“We are a sacramental church,” he said. “We need to have physical presence to the mysteries, to hold communion, the centerpiece of the life of a Catholic, the mass, to physically be present. We have been holding mass virtually, but it is just not the same.”
“Unfortunately, we have people waiting five weeks to get to a service,” he said. “In a large parish, we have a thousand parishioners, and it takes a long time to get through the people who want to come to mass.”
Sample said he has received calls and letters from parishioners asking him to “do something.”
“Certain essential services can operate,” he said. “For a person of faith, their faith practice is essential. We want to be cooperative. What is irksome is restrictions are not based on the size of a building. We have churches that can hold 600 people, and some as many as 1,000. Under the new restrictions only 25 can come in.”
He said five priests have contracted COVID-19, but none of the cases can be traced back to church activity.
“We have followed the science,” he said. “We have very strict with face masks and sanitizing.”
What troubles Sample is that he has been able to shop in big-box stores for an hour at a time, following restrictions imposed based on the size of the store.
“This is what I hear from my parishioners,” he said. “But we can’t allow people into our churches based on the size of our buildings. The people who contact me feel it is unfair.”