Becket Fund assists 40 Dane County Catholic sites to open at 25 percent capacity Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Brent King Director of Communications, Diocese of Madison   
Thursday, Jun. 11, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- For three months now, the Diocese of Madison has followed the best of state and local guidelines with regard to all reasonable protocols concerning COVID-19, its transmission, and how to protect the public, especially those most vulnerable.

At the same time, and never dismissively, the Church has looked to how best to provide for the spiritual, and especially the sacramental, nourishment of the faithful. This has been a particular weight on the heart of Bishop Donald J. Hying since suspending public Masses in mid-March.

After the Wisconsin State Supreme Court reversed state-wide orders and restrictions, the diocese quickly began planning for its own very-measured reopening.

On Thursday, May 21, the Diocese of Madison shared its guidelines for parish reopening at 25 percent occupancy across the 11-county diocese. These guidelines take everything into account from social distancing, personal sanitation, omission of singing, removal of furniture and hymnals, training of ushers, and so much more.

The following afternoon, after the 25 percent "direction" to our 102 parishes of the diocese, Dane County officials surprised 40 worship sites, imposing an arbitrary capacity of 50 people.

For example, for parishes like Our Lady Queen of Peace or St. Maria Goretti, both in Madison, this would mean being reduced to five percent of capacity, when we have demonstrated in the other 10 counties that we can open at 25 percent safely and prudently.

Instead of either defying or passively complying with the county's arbitrary number, the diocese reached out to one of the nation's foremost defenders of the First Amendment -- The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. And thank God we did.

Through the Becket Fund and their associates' pro-bono assistance, a letter was sent to representatives of the city and county demanding fair and equal treatment for religious institutions.

Less than 48 hours later, everything changed for the 40 Catholic churches and oratories in the county (and hundreds of non-Catholic religious institutions) that were previously held to the 50-person cap or who faced a potential $1,000 fine per violation, as one county official explained to Bishop Hying.

This past weekend, for the first time in 12 weeks, many more people were able to enter fully into the Sacrifice of the Mass -- something we cannot do online, as helpful as technology is and has been these months.

We as Catholics are, in our very nature, physical, tangible, and personal in how we interact and worship our Lord. We do not pray alone to God or with Scripture on Sunday, as wonderful as those forms of prayer are. We need to physically assist at Mass, to pray with the priest to God the Father, as Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross is presented anew.

As Bishop Hying reminded us last week, "What we do outside of our Church building, as Catholics, flows from what we do inside of our Church buildings, namely the Mass, the Eucharist . . . Jesus Christ -- His death and resurrection."

The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy flow from the nourishment we receive at Mass, because they are done in the name of Christ. Our love for Him is translated into love for neighbor.

Last week's decision by Dane County recognizes our right to worship Our Lord in a way that is consistent with our core beliefs as Catholics and with equal treatment under the law. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

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