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Bishop William M. Joensen of Des Moines explains why Masses must remain forbidden until perhaps as late as June, if not later.dmdiocese / YouTube

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DES MOINES, Iowa, May 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The bishops of the four dioceses of Iowa will keep public Masses banned, even as the state government starts easing restrictions on religious gatherings imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint statement, the bishops said it might take until “an effective vaccine” has been found for them to loosen the self-imposed restrictions on access to the sacraments.

According to the archbishop of Dubuque, as well as the bishops of Sioux City, Davenport, and Des Moines, “the spread of the COVID-19 disease remains a real and present danger.”

“In particular, the health and survival of the elderly and other vulnerable populations is still a grave concern,” as many of the faithful, but also of the priests, are part of those groups.

“In light of the expectation that positive cases of COVID-19 will peak in Iowa in the next few weeks, we have decided it would be most prudent for now to continue to follow the liturgical restrictions we have in place, including the suspension of public Masses,” the statement explained.

Iowa is reporting, at the time of this writing, a total of 162 deaths related to the coronavirus, as well as over 7,000 cases. More than 42,000 people had been tested. There are more than three million people currently living in the Hawkeye State.

In any case, a return of public Masses might be months away. “Without an effective vaccine or widespread testing and contact data that justifies a change in course, we simply are not at a place where we can resume our previous prayer practices,” the bishops argued.

Bill Gates, whose foundation is heavily involved in funding the research to create a coronavirus vaccine, said a vaccine would be ready next year, at the earliest. “Like America’s top public health officials, I say that it is likely to be 18 months, even though it could be as short as nine months or closer to two years,” he wrote.

The Iowa bishops announced they would “continue to closely monitor the statewide and respective regional situations through the weeks of May and beyond.”

“When the time comes that we can gather in greater numbers while observing social distance, safe hygienic practices and other precautions without placing one another at serious risk, public Masses and other sacramental celebrations will be allowed to resume,” they added.

Bishop William M. Joensen of Des Moines, in a video, vaguely spoke of a time frame for the start of public Masses, mentioning “the vigil of Pentecost, or certainly before the feast of Corpus Christi in June.”

“What a source of thanksgiving and celebration that will be,” he added, before cautioning, “But again, I can’t promise something that I’m not able, at this time, to deliver on.”

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds allowed Iowans on April 27 to “gather for spiritual or religious purposes, so long as churches, synagogues, or other hosts of a spiritual or religious gathering take reasonable measures to ensure social distancing of employees, volunteers, and other participants, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of further spread of COVID-19,” beginning May 1.

While still recommending to “conduct activities” online, the Iowa government suggested “outdoor services, or drive-in vehicle events” as alternatives to traditional worship services inside a building.

In many of Iowa’s counties, even restaurants are again allowed to open, although social distancing requirements need to be maintained.

Apart from the Catholic bishops, several other religious communities have called on their faithful to stay at home, as reported by The Des Moines Register.

The Pew Research Center pointed out that only ten states within the United States had imposed an outright ban on religious gatherings, including California, New York, and Illinois. The other states had put only certain restrictions in place, usually relating to size and social distancing.

Nevertheless, public Masses have essentially disappeared in America, given that bishops across the country issued decrees prohibiting priests from celebrating Mass with significant numbers of faithful present.