"We don't want anything to be done that isn't following the guidelines," she said.
The open letter encourages bishops to do everything possible t o provide some form of a public Mass, especially for the Easter liturgy, including offering it themselves.
It is unclear whether some gatherings, like "drive-in" Masses offered in parking lots while attendees sit in their cars, would comply with government bans on large public gatherings, a local bishop's ban on public Masses, or public health experts' recommendations on social distancing.
The open letter asks bishops to "demand that civil authorities permit events such as offering and attending a Mass in a parking lot, if they are currently prohibited."
Smith said if a state or local government ban on large public gatherings includes people going to a parking lot in their car to hear Mass, "that has to be fought."
"We want the bishop calling up the governor and the mayor and calling up the legislators and calling up whoever, and saying 'No no no, this is freedom of religion that we have to be allowed to do'," she said.
"We are not asking for anything that would put our neighbors in danger. All due precautions would be observed. How can a parking lot Mass where everyone drives there in their cars and stays in their cars and where there is no distribution of the Eucharist put anyone at danger? That is one of our chief requests to be put under consideration."
"There is absolutely no way that this relates to the spread of the virus," Smith told CNA.
Asked if letter organizers had consulted with public health experts on their proposals, Smith said:
"We didn't consult any, although we have heard from many who have provided more good ideas on what can be done. We are not proposing anything specific but are asking the bishops to do everything they can to provide the sacraments within the parameters determined necessary by experts."
Smith herself raised and then answered the question of whether organizers should have gone directly to the bishops. She said "it's not possible."
(Story continues below)
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"They're busy with meetings, and it's hard to get through," she said. "But if you do a petition that we hope thousands will sign, then I hope we get their attention."
The open letter advocates that civil authorities recognize religious services as "essential services," a move which some states have done amid stay-at-home orders.
Referring to emergency declarations' distinction between "essential" and "non-essential" employees and businesses, Smith said she is concerned "the Catholic world does not seem to understand that it is simply wrong to concede that religious services are 'non-essential'."
"Yes, we can dispense with them as virtually everything can be dispensed with in certain conditions," she said. "But the conditions we are in right now do not, at least as far as the experts tell us, require all that our bishops have done and have allowed to be done."
In Smith's view, "the bishops are missing in action in clearly responding to the spiritual needs of their people." She acknowledged that almost all bishops are streaming Masses on Sunday, saying this is "a good thing" but "not the most important thing."
While she has seen many priests doing "very innovative things" to make available the sacraments and ensure the spiritual needs of their people are being met, she others are not visibly doing enough. Some, she said, were "almost denying sacraments before they needed to."