Restrictions put in place by Gov. Kate Brown to slow the spread of COVID-19 go into effect Wednesday and will impact every aspect of life, habits and traditions in Oregon.

Particularly in the 146 Portland’s Catholic churches, home to 465,000 Catholics, all of whom are on the cusp of the time of year when church attendance increases during a season of faith.

Brown will limit all bars and restaurants to takeout only, close all gyms, restrict indoor and outdoor gatherings to no more than six people from two different households, limit capacity at grocery stories and pharmacies, and allow churches and faith groups to accommodate indoor crowds no larger than 25. The mandates lasts at least two weeks statewide and four weeks in Multnomah County.

“It seems strange to us,” said Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample. “No one has a constitutional right to go to a restaurant, a bar or a gym. But there is a right to the free exercise of religion.”

Sample said Catholics can’t worship virtually.

“We are a sacramental church,” he said. “We need to have physical presence to the mysteries, to hold communion, the centerpiece of the life of a Catholic, the mass, to physically be present. We have been holding mass virtually, but it is just not the same.”

Sample said the Catholic churches have followed state social distancing rules regarding COVID-19, limiting the number of people in church — a number that can vary from 50 to more than 100 depending on what county the church is based in.

“Unfortunately, we have people waiting five weeks to get to a service,” he said. “In a large parish, we have a thousand parishioners, and it takes a long time to get through the people who want to come to mass.”

Sample said he has received calls and letters from parishioners asking him to “do something about the rules.”

“Certain essential services can operate,” he said. “For a person of faith, their faith practice is essential. We want to be cooperative. What is irksome is restrictions are not based on the size of a building. We have churches that can hold 600 people, and some as many as 1,000. Under the new restrictions only 25 can come in.”

He said five priests have contracted COVID-19, but none of the cases can be traced back to church activity.

“We have followed the science,” he said. “We have very strict with face masks and sanitizing.”

What troubles Sample is that he has been able to shop in big box stores for an hour at a time, following restrictions imposed based on the size of the store.

“This is what I hear from my parishioners,” he said. “But we can’t allow people into our churches based on the same of our buildings. The people who contact me feel it is unfair.”

Despite the calls by some parishioners to ignore the new orders, Sample said that’s “not going to happen.”


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