Pastor to governor: Consider churches essential, allow more attendees at funerals

Coronavirus

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — All in-person church services have been on hold since March, meaning the faithful have had to find other ways to worship.

It really hit home for Christians on Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the calendar year, when they had to watch Mass on television or online.

Adding to the difficulty, for people of all faiths, has been the inability to attend funerals of loved ones.

That’s what prompted Father Marcel Taillon, the pastor of St. Thomas More Church and Veronica Chapel in Narragansett, to urge Gov. Gina Raimondo to deem churches essential and ease the restrictions on funeral Masses.

“Once someone is deceased, what’s essential changes immediately,” Fr. Taillon said. “What becomes essential is God, is clergy, funeral directors, and the loved one’s family members that have now already been through this critical, difficult thing of not being able to be with their loved ones, but once the person’s passed and deceased, now the family members need what’s essential to them.”

On Thursday, Raimondo announced that 10 or fewer people will be allowed to attend funerals during Phase 1 of reopening Rhode Island.

Fr. Taillon said that’s not sufficient, pointing out that neighboring Massachusetts is allowing up to 25 attendees and Connecticut is allowing up to 50.

The Diocese of Providence distributed an editorial Friday on the criticism being lodged against the current restrictions, saying as long as the protocols are reasonable and enacted in the name of public health, they should be followed and not considered religious persecution.

“A person’s support of restrictions in order to curtail risks of infection does not imply he disdains religious liberty. Nor are reasonable restrictions demonstrative of religious persecution,” the editorial read. “If this were the case, the government must be just as prejudiced against hair salons and exercise facilities as it is against religious entities.”

Raimondo said houses of worship can reopen as long as five or fewer people are inside at a time. She encouraged them to continue offering services via live stream.

In Massachusetts, at least 260 religious leaders signed a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker asking to be involved with the state’s Reopening Advisory Board.

“When the phased reopening of our Commonwealth begins, the reopening of our churches must be in the first phase,” the letter stated. “It is upsetting that, unlike roughly half the states across our nation, churches in Massachusetts were not deemed ‘essential’ at the outset, but this must come to an end.”

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