DALLAS - The Catholic Dallas and Fort Worth dioceses took two different approaches toward allowing their parishioners back to church.
While Fort Worth will start allowing mass with social distancing protocols, Dallas is taking a slower, phased approach. They are two different plans, but each say they have their reasons that are unique to their respective regions.
Diocese of Dallas
The Diocese of Dallas announced Thursday that masses for its 1.3 million parishioners will remain suspended in the first phase of its reopening plan, or at least until May 18.
However, Catholics will be allowed to return to church for scheduled confessions, Eucharistic adoration and religious celebrations such as weddings, baptisms, first communions and funerals.
All gatherings in church will be limited to 25% of the building’s listed capacity and people will be required to sit at least 6 feet apart to comply with social distancing guidelines.
The Dallas Diocese will open churches in four phases.
Confessions begin in Phase 1 this weekend and will be private in open areas of the church or even outside. They will also allow baptisms, funerals and weddings in small groups.
Daily masses will likely begin in two weeks during Phase II.
Sunday masses are planned during Phase III with somewhat of a return to normalcy for churchgoers during Phase IV.
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The Diocese of Dallas’ 77 churches across nine counties will be diligently disinfected and all local mandates will be followed when it comes to facial coverings.
Like many faith leaders, Father Russ Mower of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in the Dallas Diocese has been preaching online.
“Preaching to a camera and an empty church is strange,” he admitted. “We never talked about this in seminary. We never studied this. We’re breaking new ground. We miss you, and we want you here. But we don’t want to put anyone at risk.”
“The health and safety of our faithful, clergy and our community are our utmost priorities during this difficult time, and it is our goal to continue attending to the physical and spiritual welfare of our parishioners,” said Bishop Edward J. Burns. “I ask all in the Catholic community to please recognize the need for patience and prudence during this challenging time, and that we join in prayer for all those who are affected by this virus.”
Diocese of Fort Worth
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Fort Worth plans to resume public masses this weekend with health and safety restrictions in place for its 1.1 million parishioners.
“It is safe for us to return to public mass,” said Fort Worth Diocese Communications Director Pat Svacina. “Everyone who comes will have to wear masks and will have to sanitize. Anyone that’s ill should not come out.”
Church buildings will be at 25% limited capacity and families will be seated at least 6 feet apart. The pews will be wiped down with disinfectant between all masses and people will be discouraged from shaking hands, passing around the collection basket or accepting communion on their tongue.
Bishop Michael Olson strongly encouraged people over the age of 60 to remain home or attend a mass specifically for seniors if it is available in their parish. Masses will continue to be live-streamed.
“The current state of the pandemic is such that the faithful are still dispensed from the obligation to attend and participate in Sunday mass. There are still legitimate threats to our health from the highly contagious COVID-19 virus,” Bishop Olson said.
The Fort Worth Diocese believes its decision takes into consideration physical and spiritual health.
The Dallas region is dealing with more cases than the Fort Worth region. Many churches in the Fort Worth Diocese are in rural areas, compared to the Dallas Diocese. What plays out in Fort Worth will be watched closely by Dallas Catholic leaders.
The churches plan to reassess their plans in two weeks and as the state of Texas eases restrictions.