“This ruling, though sold as an ‘expansion,’ provides no real advance for the vast majority of the state,” said Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland in a statement provided to CNA.
“It does nothing to provide relief to our parishes and parishioners,” he said, adding that the state’s Catholics are “perplexed and upset” by the new rules.
Ultimately, fewer than ten churches in the state are expecting increased capacity due to this new ruling.
Two of these churches--the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland and the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston--are expecting only modest increases despite their large square-footage, the diocese told CNA. The cathedral, which has a listed capacity of 975 people, will now be allowed only 63 people inside. The basilica will now be able to accommodate 105 people inside, less than a tenth of its normal capacity.
“The governor must reconsider this and go to a percentage model,” Bishop Deeley said, noting that other states in New England “have and continue to be at 50% capacity for worship services,” and that over half of U.S. states have no restrictions at all on congregation sizes.
“We have asked for even 25% [capacity limits], but the governor’s office will not engage in a discussion on why that makes sense,” he said.
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In a recent Supreme Court ruling, the court struck down California’s near-total ban on indoor worship services and ruled that the state may limit churches to 25% capacity for indoor services.
Since public Masses resumed in the diocese of Portland in June, 2020, Deeley said there have been no outbreaks traced to any Catholic church in the state, and that churches throughout the state have not only complied with the protocols, but “have enforced even stricter safeguards” in order to “ensure the safety of parishioners and the wider community.”
Catholic parishes and schools have successfully opened successfully during the pandemic, he said.