The first meeting of the Covid-19 Response Team was held on Wednesday, April 22; in attendance were Fr. Scott Chemino, JD, JCL, Fr. Peter Faulk, JCL, JV, Mr. David Brook, CFO; and via Zoom, Fr. Rick Gremillion, Rebecca Beaman and Patricia White (from the State Department of Health), and Bishop-Elect Robert Marshall.

1). STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH. The meeting began by hearing from Patricia White and Rebecca Beaman of the local State Health Department.  Some points that they shared:

Because of the nature of this virus, information changes almost daily, which has resulted in confusion and perpetuation of misinformation.  We simply to not know enough about this virus yet.

We will be dealing with COVID-19 on some level until there is a vaccine developed.

The only thing that will slow/stop the spread of the virus is avoiding human contact, by social distancing, masks, gloves and only gathering in very small groups.

If the general Stay At Home order by Governor Edwards is indeed lifted on May 1, this does not mean that we return to business and public liturgies as usual.  The Governor has indicated that it will be a “phased” re-opening, and religious services are likely to be far down on the list, and will more than likely involve a number of restrictions:  size of the crowd, social distancing, masks, gloves, sanitizing churches after services before another service begins, et cetera.

Combating this virus is particularly difficult due to the fact that not all of those who have the virus become symptomatic.  While originally it was believed that a 14 day quarantine would be sufficient for those who test positive, there are now cases of asymptomatic people testing positive for 28 days or longer.

Obviously this is not the news were were hoping to hear; yet, this crisis is so fluid that daily interaction with the State Department of Health is our goal.

They ended their presentation with a plea to priests:  Please protect yourselves.  If visiting the sick or dying with the Sacraments, follow the guidelines previously discussed, including using cotton swabs for the Anointing.

Some smaller hospitals in the rural areas are allowing clergy to visit, with an intake test which includes temperature check, and gloves, masks, gowns, et cetera.  Our hospital Chaplains are doing an amazing job and obviously following the protocol of their own institutions.

2).  PARISH AND DIOCESAN STAFF.  Some Pastors have asked if Staff is allowed to come in to perform essential functions (deposits, bill payment, payroll).  It is appropriate for Staff to come for a short period of time to handle these functions.  No more than 2 Staff members (which would include the Pastor/Priest) should be present at once and should take necessary precautions, especially the “six foot” distancing rule.  Offices should NOT be opened to the public.  Buildings should be checked periodically and lawn maintenance can continue, again with the necessary precautions.  All of this is obviously contingent upon the individual Staff member:  age, health, comfort level.  As this next week unfolds, Diocesan Staff will be given more information.  When the Diocesan Offices are able to “open,” a “staggered” plan will be developed for the health and safety of all; Pastors are encouraged to do the same with their Parish Staff.

3).  FUNERALS.  The current guidance of Archbishop Aymond stands:  Funeral liturgies may be conducted with 10 or less in attendance and following necessary precautions.  (The same still applies for Weddings and Baptisms). However, please note that each Funeral Home is handling their services at their own discretion.  Some are allowing only graveside services.  If you have a death, please make sure that the family (or you) speak to the Funeral Director about what their particular practices are.

4).  PASTORAL/SPIRITUAL/CATECHETICAL RESOURCES.  All Catholic publishing companies have developed/are developing resources for this time.  Much of it is based on “recovery” and we aren’t there yet.  Pastors and Parish Staff are encouraged to investigate what might be beneficial to their particular parish.  Most of these resources are free.

5).  FINANCIAL ISSUES.  Obviously with no public Masses, collections begin to suffer.  For the parishes that do not offer Online Giving and/or Electronic Funds Transfers, this is particularly difficult.  We encourage Pastors to invite your people to continue to give by mailing in their contributions as they are able.  If you have the ability to set up Online Giving, you are encouraged to do so.

Some parishes, and the Diocese, have applied for and been approved for Payroll Protection Loans through the Small Business Association, in conjunction with a local bank.  However, as of last Wednesday, the funds had been depleted and any who attempted to apply on Wednesday or after were unable to do so.  Congress is in the process of approving a new stimulus plan, so please check with your local bank for guidance, or Mr. David Brook, CFO, can assist you.

Mr. David Brook would like to hear from Pastors in regard to their collections at this time, compared to a “normal” year.  Please send him this information:  dbrook@diocesealex.org

6).  CANONICAL ISSUES, MESSAGE FROM POPE FRANCIS:   Fr. Peter Faulk, JCL, JV,  noted that Pope Francis has created a Vatican Commission to provide universal guidelines for episcopal conferences led by Cardinal Turkson.  Along with treating issues such as the Church’s social teaching, care for the poor and the most vulnerable and care for the environment – a vademecum for episcopal conferences is being crafted which will emphasize public safety and above all, cooperation with civil authority on the part of the faithful.  This commission will also provide guidelines in order to properly understand the exercise of religious freedom.  A key component of this is an informed understanding of modern constitutional systems in which local governments retain the right, under the law, to limit the exercise of said religious freedoms in light of extraordinary societal crises.  Only the favoring of one faith based organization over another would be deemed unconstitutional. The faithful have a right to the sacraments, but under c. 213, the hierarchy retains the right to prudently and judiciously determine the criterion for a just distribution of the spiritual goods of the Word of God and the sacraments in accord with a wise and virtuous cooperation with civil authority in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.

"As we are just beginning this work, and this crisis continues to unfold, we appreciate your patience.  We pray that you will find this information helpful," said  Fr. Craig Scott. "Any member of this Committee is available should you have any questions."