Archbishop continues to restrict church capacity as New Mexico governor allows full church opening
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SANTA FE, New Mexico, April 26, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Archbishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is ordering Catholic churches to continue to restrict capacity according to county-level recommendations, even after New Mexico’s governor allowed churches to fully open.
“The Archbishop requests that the Reverend Pastors continue to follow the color coding system as to capacity for indoor Masses and do not allow 100% attendance at this time,” stated a news release announcing the continued restrictions.
“It is of paramount importance to remember that the Church values everyone's safety and well-being. Life is sacred and we are taking every precaution to protect our people from the coronavirus,” the release continued.
New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a modified public health order on Friday allowing places of worship to open at 100 percent capacity, even as more restricted capacity limits continue to be enforced in places like restaurants and theaters.
The more lenient order is a “response to recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that say capacity limits on churches can't be more restrictive than on other entities such as factories and schools,” a spokeswoman for Governor Grisham told the Santa Fe New Mexican in an email.
In late November of 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that New York Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on religious services “cannot be viewed as neutral because they single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”
Earlier this month, California lifted restrictions on indoor worship services after several Supreme Court decisions in favor of plaintiffs who view religious service attendance restrictions as a violation of the constitutional freedom to worship.
Grisham’s new public health order gives special freedom to places of worship, which along with essential businesses, are the only places free from capacity restrictions in New Mexico.
Essential businesses such as health care facilities, grocery stores, and childcare clinics, while allowed to operate at full capacity, “must limit operations to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions,” according to the order.
Although Grisham’s newest public health order allows the full opening of houses of worship, it maintains “strong” recommendations to limit their capacity according to county-by-county color coded restrictions. Wester is opting to abide by these recommendations, which “strongly encourage” the limitation of service attendance to 75, 50, 33, or 25 percent of full church capacity, depending on the county’s designated risk level.
The New Mexico Department of Health dashboard reveals that a large swath of New Mexico is still designated as “high risk.” Six of these “Yellow Level” counties, in which churches are recommended to operate at 33 percent of original capacity, are found in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The archdiocese also contains a county (Colfax) with a “very high risk” “Red Level” designation, in which churches will only operate at 25 percent of full capacity, in compliance with recommendations.
Archbishop Wester has a history of curbing religious practice in the name of public health. He was rebuked last year for suspending indoor public Mass and regular confession as he kept Santa Fe’s cathedral gift shop open. He has also drawn harsh criticism during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak for mandating that Holy Communion be received in the hand, and for threatening priests whose homilies run longer than five minutes with suspension.
The Society of Saint Pius X continues to hold Roman Catholic Masses without restriction within the geographical area of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe at Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church.