Oakland bishop: Unmasked Massgoers should not be ‘policed’

Bishop Barber Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland/ Diocese of Oakland

The bishop of Oakland, California on Monday said that Catholics fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not have to wear masks at Mass, adding that those not vaccinated will not be forced to wear a mask.

“The mask rules for offices, schools, travel, public transportation and businesses are still being worked out by government health officials. But churchgoers may dispense with the mask if they have been vaccinated,” Bishop Michael Barber, SJ wrote in a June 21 column. He added that no one should be “forced or requested to prove their vaccination status to participate in worship.”

Those who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 are asked to continue to wear masks at Mass, Barber said, but the new protocols are based on the “honor system.” He cautioned that “no one should be criticized if they choose not to be vaccinated, and/or wear a mask inside our churches.” 

“Our ushers and greeters should extend a warm welcome and answer questions about the new policy, but they should never be used as ‘mask police,’” the bishop wrote. 

Dioceses across the country are continuing to lift the general dispensations from the Sunday Mass obligation, put in place last year due to the pandemic. The dispensation in the diocese of Oakland will end on Sunday, Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption.

“I extend a warm ‘welcome home’ to our parishioners, who have been starving spiritually during this pandemic,” Barber concluded.

“The Lord has given us ‘Bread from heaven, containing all sweetness within it.’ Let us do what the Good Shepherd commands us and open wide our doors to ‘Feed His lambs, feed His sheep’,” he said. 

California’s Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, has recorded about 90,000 total cases of COVID-19. 

Other dioceses have similarly discouraged “policing” of the vaccination status of Mass attendees. 

The Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin announced on Tuesday the reinstatement of the Sunday obligation on the weekend of June 26-27. Bishop William Callahan noted that “vaccinated-only” Masses are not allowed, and that “checking vaccination status of Mass attendees is also not permitted.”

The ecclesiastical provinces of Baltimore and Washington - which include the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the dioceses of Wilmington, Arlington, Richmond, and Wheeling-Charleston - will lift the dispensation that same weekend. Fully vaccinated people will not need to wear a mask at Mass, and “do not need to supply proof of vaccination,” the dioceses announced recently, adding that “parishes should not ask to see or check vaccination cards.”

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