Urgent Response to COVID 19 From Most Reverend Robert McElroy, Bishop of San Diego

I have no need to tell you of the dislocations, legitimate concerns and misplaced fear that are burdening our parishioners and families in these days concerning COVID19.

The public health response in our society is changing daily, and it is essential that the Church move in tandem with prudent efforts to stop the spread of this pandemic.

Both the governor and San Diego County have issued declarations prohibiting meetings of more than two hundred fifty people, and calling for social distancing even within smaller gatherings.

In light of these government actions, and the public health challenge which underlies them, I consulted with the Presbyteral Council yesterday and again today. As a result, I have concluded that the following actions must be implemented in all of the parishes and schools of the Diocese of San Diego:

Effective Monday morning March 16th, no public daily or weekend Masses will be held. Parishes are  encouraged to keep churches open longer hours for personal visitation, intermittent recitations of the Rosary, and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

All Catholics in the Diocese of San Diego are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass during the coming weeks.

All parish and diocesan schools and religious education programs will be suspended effective this Monday. The Diocesan School Office is notifying the schools of this suspension; the Office has in prior days sent to the schools substantive materials for long distance learning for use during the suspension.

We will be providing video streamed Sunday Masses celebrated by priests and bishops of our diocese in English, Spanish and Vietnamese every week. Your parishioners can access these celebrations be linking to the diocesan website at sdcatholic.org starting this Sunday.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Robert W. McElroy
Bishop of San Diego



Office of the Bishop

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In today's first reading from the Book of Exodus, we witness the people of Israel as they struggled with the challenges and the graces, the suffering and the triumphs, the moments of hope and of utter frustration that marked their arduous forty year journey through the desert and into the Promised Land.

For every Lent, this historic journey of the Israelites is the symbol of the People of God in our own day attempting to follow the pathway of the Lord amidst the uncertainty and obstacles that lie all around us in the modern world. But in this Lent, in this moment, our Lenten journey has taken on new dimensions as we confront a global pandemic that will, for a time, upend our normal way of life and call us to a deepened sense of sacrifice and faith. In these forty days we will bear Lenten penances not of our own choosing, the necessity of which we will not fully understand.

The great temptation of the Jewish people in the wilderness was that of fear and panic, a loss of confidence, community and trust. And in these days of spreading illness and economic losses, fear seems all around us -- fear of becoming ill, fear for the health and safety of those whom we love, fear for economic security for ourselves and our families, and the fear that comes from the recognition that for some of the most vulnerable among us, this pandemic will claim their lives.

It is important for us all to distinguish between giving in to fear and the steps that we need to take in prudence to protect the health and the common good of the whole of our society. Each of us will have obligations in these days to protect ourselves, our families, and the entire community.             It is out of this responsibility to protect the safety of all that the diocese will be suspending all public Masses after this Sunday. I have asked every pastor to keep our churches open for additional time during this period to allow for individual visits to the Blessed Sacrament and prayer.

The strongest antidote to fear in this moment lies in our understanding that the core issue for us as people of faith lies in confronting the question that the Israelites posed in today's reading from Exodus: "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

And thus our observance of Lent this year provides the most illuminating possible backdrop for the burdens that each one of us, individually, collectively and globally, will face in the coming weeks.

It is the experiences which upend our lives that most powerfully reveal our ultimate dependence on the God who created every blessing which we know in this life and who sustains us in a tender and personal love that knows no bounds.

It is our bond with the suffering Jesus Christ that consoles us with a special strength as we approach Good Friday amidst coming hardships that may weigh us down.

And it is the transformative recognition that Christ has risen from the dead that reveals the overwhelming power of hope for ourselves and for our world.

"Is the Lord in our midst?" Our emphatic yes to this question, revealed not merely in an intellectual assent, but in a living conviction that surrounds our personal response to the challenges that lie ahead, is the greatest Lenten observance that we can undertake in these days to reflect the core values of our faith and witness in the world.

It was the hardships and the faith of the Jewish people during their journey in the desert that formed them into a people. And in these days of challenge for our society and our world, we have the chance and the opportunity to ennoble both our nation and our world by testifying constantly to generosity over selfishness, compassion over callousness, idealism over cynicism, and hope over fear.

With all best wishes I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend W. McElroy Diocese of San Diego

Office of the Bishop

March 13, 2020 


Memo: To: Priests of the Diocese of San Diego
From: Bishop McElroy
Subject: Response to Questions Concerning Sacramental Life in the Coming Weeks

Since sending out the memo this morning about the cancellation of public Masses for the coming weeks, we have received several questions for clarification. I want to share these clarifications with all of you at this time:

What is the policy on the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

All Communal Reconciliation Services should be canceled because they involve significant crowds. The Individual celebration of the Sacrament should continue, and even be expanded to reflect the spiritual anxieties people are feeling at this time.

Can weddings be celebrated publically and include a Nuptial Mass?

Yes. Such events rarely exceed two hundred fifty people and the stress of canceling would be enormous for couples and their families. 

Are funerals permitted?

Yes, the celebration of funerals should follow the norms which you ordinarily used in your parish. It is particularly important to console the bereaved at this moment.

Can already scheduled Quinceañeras be celebrated?

Yes. Crowds for the Mass rarely reach two hundred fifty people, and thus can be accommodated within the public health provisions necessary in these days.

Why can't public Sunday Masses be celebrated in smaller parishes?

There are three reasons. The first is that if public Masses persist in the smaller parishes, parishioners from larger parishes will come there for Mass over time and exceed the limits. Secondly, this pattern will initiate injustice among parishes. Thirdly, compliance with public health mandates will be impossible to regulate in the real world.

Why are Masses continuing this Sunday even after the governor's declaration?

The governor's declaration allows groups to exceed two hundred fifty people for essential activities. Having an opportunity to speak to our people about the spiritual dimensions of the crisis we are facing in this moment constitutes an essential activity which will actually contribute to our society's ability to face COVID 19 in the coming months. It is important to note that the diocese has dispensed every Catholic from the obligation to attend Mass in the coming weeks and has urged all those who are ill or in especially vulnerable categories not to attend Mass this weekend.

When will this suspension of Mass end?

The simple reality is that I do not know. If we are approaching Holy Week and no end looks in sight, I will work with the deans and the Presbyteral Council to try to create templates for the effective celebration of the great feasts of Easter in a meaningful manner consistent with public health and public policy. 

I will be happy to answer further questions in the coming weeks, and I am immensely grateful for the heroic work you are undertaking on so many levels to minister to your people in these challenging days. 

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