Oakland Catholic Diocese Bishop Michael Barber said on Wednesday that churches in the East Bay will reopen whenever it is safe and measures for maintaining social distancing during Mass are being created. Barber also suggested the possibility of holding Mass in outdoor settings.

“We are envisioning a phased approach: limiting attendance, observing social distancing in seating, wearing masks, cleaning pews after each Mass, carefully distributing Holy Communion so as not to touch the communicant, etc,” Barber said. “We are also looking at holding Mass outdoors, as they did during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.”

Barber, who was appointed Bishop of Oakland in 2013 by Pope Francis, has routinely offered homilies over the past month describing frustration over the church’s inability to serve its congregants and provide the sacraments. Some pastors at the Cathedral of Light Catholic Church near Lake Merritt in Oakland have administered Communion to followers lined up in cars.

Oakland cathedral of light
Cathedral of Light Catholic Church in Oakland

But Barber’s frustration has yet veered into activism seen by other churches, who have more strongly pressed the state and county to allow churches to open. In a few cases, pastors have defied local public officers by attempting to reopen for services.

“I will reopen the churches for Mass in our diocese when it is safe to do so,” Barber said. “I understand the deep and holy desire to come together to worship the Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and to receive His Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament. But I do not want to put people at risk of sickness and even death by unnecessarily exposing them to the coronavirus.”

However, Barber and other bishops in California have impressed upon Gov. Gavin Newsom that the schedule for allowing gatherings in churches should be expedited somewhat in tandem with the further reopening of businesses in the state. If not, Barber said, “As bishops, we believe this would be unjust and counterproductive to rebuilding California.”