Archbishop John C. Wester released a statement explaining that the archdiocese would "err on the side of protecting human life.”
As the people of New Mexico are experiencing a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has announced that it will be closing its churches. The decision, made just weeks after the archdiocese suspended indoor Masses with a congregation present, leaves the faithful few outlets for parish prayer, but Archbishop John C. Wester is encouraging Catholics to “embrace the domestic church,” as they practice their faith from home.
According to Catholic Philly, Archbishop Wester released a statement on November 2 in which he explained that he decided that closing churches would be the most prudent action after meeting with a COVID-19 response team. In explanation, the prelate cited rapidly rising infection and death rates within the state and cautions from medical professionals. He reminded his flock, however, that these changes are “in no way permanent.” He said:
“Even when observing protocols, policies and procedures, there are still many who are contracting the virus. Hospitals are already sounding the alarm, with hospitalizations increasing throughout the state.” Archbishop Wester added, “If in retrospect the archdiocese makes an error in responding to the pandemic, then I would rather err on the side of protecting human life.”
In the statement, the archbishop went on to note that the Catholic population of New Mexico is so large that even if churches remained at 40% capacity, there would be nearly 130,000 people put at risk each week. He noted that in the 18th and 19th centuries the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, one of the oldest Catholic communities in America, grew despite offering only infrequent Masses, and encouraged Catholics in New Mexico to follow the example of their spiritual ancestors and continue practicing the faith their homes.
Archbishop Wester has offered Catholics of New Mexico a dispensation from the Sunday obligation, but there are still several options for Catholics to attend Mass. Outdoor Masses may be celebrated only if the congregations adhere to social distancing protocols, wear masks, and wash their hands. Distribution of the Eucharist is left to the pastor’s discretion, but it was suggested that it be distributed to the faithful while they are in their vehicles or by way of a socially distanced and masked line.
The Archbishop wrote:
“The COVID-19 Response Team will be continually assessing the situation and medical recommendations over the next several weeks in the hope that we can ease restrictions sooner than later. Hardship is neither pleasant nor welcomed; we continue to seek the common good of all of God’s creation.”