Trump says he considers houses of worship 'essential'

Calls on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend

WBEN Newsroom
May 22, 2020 - 2:08 pm
President Donald Trump

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WASHINGTON (WBEN/AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday that he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of spreading the coronavirus.

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference at the White House, where he didn’t take questions. He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared a draft of reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago that included measures like maintaining distance between parishioners and limiting the size of gatherings.

But that guidance had been delayed for more than a month by the administration until Trump abruptly changed course Thursday.

“I said, ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Trump said Thursday at a Ford Motor Co. plant repurposed to make ventilators in Michigan. “And they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We’ve got to get our churches open.”

Trump on Friday stressed the importance of churches in many communities and took issue with some of the businesses that had been allowed to reopen.

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue, go to their mosque,” he said.

Fr. Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Orchard Park, was rather blindsided by the news.

"Spirituality is essential in the lives of many Americans, but despite that, there's also practical efforts and practical items that need to be taken care of - how do we sanitize? How do we keep people safe?" said Seil. "Because we're essential does not mean that we're somehow covered and we don't have to worry about those practical matters too.

"With this news that has come kind of quickly, the idea of how this will be put into effect and still protect parishioners, that's really the key thing here," he continued.

Seil still imagines masks and social distancing will be of the utmost importance going forward.

When asked if his church, which can hold up to 900 or so people, will be ready to open to regular service in some capacity, he wasn't ready to commit.

"As far as widening that to actual masses and having large numbers of people in, I really need some direction from the Diocese of Buffalo and our Apostolic Administrator Bishop Scharfenberger on those things," said Seil.

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo tells WBEN, "Nothing has changed with regard to the plans we have communicate for gradual re-opening at the appropriate time.  Bishop Scharfenberger has been asked by Governor Cuomo to join the special committee to advise on reopening places of worship, along with Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio."

 

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