No Lockdown of Churches, Bishop Brennan Says

‘I Don’t See That As a Reality’ He Assures The Faithful

By Tablet Staff

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — As fears about the Omicron coronavirus variant continue to rise in New York City, Bishop Robert Brennan is seeking to alleviate Catholics’ worries that churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn might be locked down.

Churches are open, the bishop said, adding, “in terms of shutting down, I don’t see that as a reality.”

In an interview with Currents News on Tuesday, Bishop Brennan said he is not considering closing churches because the diocese already takes special precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

“I think we’re in a very different place than we were in the spring of 2020. We know a lot more about COVID. And we know how we can mitigate some of those concerns,” he said.

During the height of the pandemic in March, 2020, Bishop Brennan’s predecessor, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, followed state guidelines and ordered all churches in Brooklyn and Queens closed. The churches fully reopened in July, 2020.

With Christmas just three days away, Bishop Brennan discussed  the safety protocols being taken in diocesan churches, including mask-wearing, a moratorium on the distribution of wine during holy Communion, and a prohibition of handshakes during the Sign of Peace.

“And I think most important is we’ve fostered a sense of looking out for one another, trying to be respectful,” he said.

In addition, Bishop Brennan noted that New York City has a high vaccination rate, adding: “In fact, New York City has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.” 

The Church does not currently offer dispensation to Catholics seeking to avoid attending Mass, but Bishop Brennan said those who are feeling sick should stay home.

“You don’t need a dispensation if you are sick,” he said. “First of all, you’re excused. The church has always taught that. The same goes if you’re caring for somebody who is ill, or if your health is frail. If going to Mass would put you in danger, or if you have a reasonable fear, then you are excused. So we ask people to make prudent decisions based on their own health, the health of the people around them, and the needs that they have.”

With the prospect of another winter in which people might be limited in their ability to gather with family and friends, Bishop Brennan urged Catholics to reach out to one another.

“I would encourage everyone to think of who they might be able to reach out to, who might be able to use a phone call or a greeting, a little bit of extra attention, especially on a day like Christmas or those days around [it]. And these are great days for showing extreme Christian charity,” he said.