The following is the text of a letter I sent today to the Governor of Oregon about the effect of her recent executive order on the life of the Church in Oregon. I plan to send a similar letter each week until the restrictions are lifted. If you feel as I do, please feel free to adapt this letter and send a version of it to her yourself.
November 17, 2020
The Hon. Kate Brown
900 Court Street NE, Suite 254
Salem, OR 97301-4047
Dear Governor Brown,
I am a Roman Catholic seminarian in residence at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Eugene. In union with His Excellency, Archbishop Alexander Sample, and all the Catholic people of Eugene and throughout the State of Oregon, I am writing to express my frustration with your recent Executive Order 20-65, directing a “Temporary Freeze to Address Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Oregon.”
I understand well the need to contain this pandemic. However, any actions which are taken by the State to maintain and restore our public health must be carefully weighed in the balance against the spiritual (as well as mental, emotional and social) needs of Oregonians. I know that you are sensitive to some of these needs, since a report issued by OPB last Friday, November 13 indicated that “services such as hair salons, barber shops and massage services can all continue under their current operations. Brown said that’s because state experts haven’t seen clear ties between rising cases and those sorts of businesses if patrons and employees wear masks and social distance, and because many provide services that help Oregonians keep up their mental and physical health.”
For your Catholic constituents, attendance at Holy Mass and reception of the Sacraments is paramount to our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being, far more important than our ability to get a haircut or a massage. Furthermore, the parishes of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland have strictly abided by the social distancing, masks and sanitation requirements since reopening, and to my knowledge, there have been no COVID outbreaks linked to Mass attendance in the State of Oregon.
Given these facts, I ask that you hold us to the same standard as hair salons and barber shops, and allow us to continue operating as we have been. It is an injustice to your Catholic constituents to hold our churches to a stricter standard. It strikes us as arbitrary, heavy-handed religious discrimination. The Mass is an essential service for Catholics, and the absolute limit of 25 people in attendance at religious worship severely curtails the ability of our Catholic people to attend Mass and receive the sacraments of the Church.
In fact, I urge you to allow us to operate at 75% of the capacity of our churches, as the grocery stores and retail outlets are allowed. We can do so safely. This would be a gesture of good will and reassure us that you are in fact motivated by a concern for our well-being as Catholic citizens of the State of Oregon. Please, Governor Brown, free the Mass.
Yours in Christ Crucified and risen,
Matthew Knight, Seminarian
Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon