Chicago, Rockford, Joliet dioceses: State OKs plan to start reopening churches as soon as May 23
Catholic churches could start reopening as soon as May 23 under a plan Chicago-area church leaders say is approved by the state.
Citing an agreement with the governor's office, Cardinal Blase Cupich on Wednesday, in an open letter published on the Archdiocese of Chicago website, announced a plan for the gradual reopening of churches that would ultimately include ticketing or reservation systems and contact tracing.
"The Plan has been developed by the bishops of the Chicago Province in consultation with and the approval of state and local public health officials and civil authorities," he wrote.
The archdiocese as well as the Rockford and Joliet dioceses released identical summaries of the plan that presents a Phase I, Phase IA and Phase II.
Phase I involves "Limited Sacramental Celebrations and Private Prayer." It first establishes procedures parishes can use to reestablish baptisms, reconciliations, weddings and funerals for a limit of 10 people, excluding ministers and on-site staff. It could begin as soon as Saturday, May 23.
Phase IA involves steps to reopen for Eucharistic Adoration and private prayer with the 10-person limit. It could begin the following Saturday, May 30.
In Phase II, weekday and weekend Masses for larger groups could restart "depending on the guidelines from the state and the capacity of the church building." The greater number of parish team members would be allowed "if civil authorities permit an increase in the crowd size."
The dioceses did not put a time estimate on Phase II.
Their summaries said that during Phase I "the resumption of public Mass, even with 10 or fewer attendees, would not be allowed as it is a more complex process, which requires the input of lessons that will be learned from Phase I."
But in his separate letter introducing the plan on Wednesday, Bishop David J. Malloy of the Diocese of Rockford wrote: "Our goal at this point is to begin to celebrate Mass in the presence of the faithful, consistent with the guidelines for gatherings, on Monday, May 25. That will be subject to the ability of each parish to fulfill the necessary conditions."
Each parish must be certified by the archdiocese or diocese at each phase. Each pastor is to recruit volunteers to implement the reopening plan; they would undergo training by webinar the week of May 18. And the pastor must create a six-person leadership team to manage operations and supervise church cleaning, setup and greetings.
In Phase II, regarding daily and Sunday masses, the parish must implement a "reservation/ticketing system to maintain order and facilitate possible contact tracing of infection."
The beginning of the dioceses' summaries listed four "guiding principles": to provide church functions in a timely, reasonable way, to be aware of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, to establish trust for the safety of churchgoers, and to have churchgoers take personal responsibility for their own safety and common good.
Cupich said each stage of the plan will be reviewed through discussions with pastors, health professionals and civil authorities, and adjustments may be made based on data.
"We expect this situation to continue for some weeks, and any plan for reopening our churches for public worship must include every precaution to ensure public gatherings do not create a second wave of contagion, thus squandering the gains made through our sacrifice in these days," he wrote.
The state did not provide any information on the agreement with the dioceses. The Archdiocese of Chicago covers much of the Chicago suburbs, particularly in Lake and Cook counties. The Diocese of Joliet reaches DuPage and Will counties, while the Diocese of Rockford reaches Kane and McHenry counties.