Masks required in church but not bars in St. Cloud

The St. Cloud City Council voted on a mask mandate at its Monday night meeting, but the order failed to pass.

Background: St. Mary's Cathedral. Right: Bishop Donald Kettler/Diocese of St. Cloud.

The Diocese of St. Cloud has announced a new mask mandate for all indoor parish activities.

In a two-page letter to parishioners last week, Bishop Donald Kettler implied that he’s taking his cue from regional health care providers like CentraCare, who are asking communities in central Minnesota to reinstate COVID protocols due to spiking cases and understaffed and overworked hospitals.

Masks will be required at all indoor parish activities “regardless of vaccination status.” This includes all Masses, faith formation classes, and school functions.

Bishop Kettler justified the mask mandate as a temporary measure that follows Christ’s commandment to sacrifice and care for others.

“As Catholics who believe in the value of every human life and in Christ’s command to care for one another — especially the most vulnerable — we must step up and do our part,” he wrote. “This is how we demonstrate love of neighbor and compassion for those who are suffering, including caregivers and essential workers.”

Kettler also encouraged parishes in the diocese to “limit group events and meetings as much as possible.” Although he recommended moving these online, he explicitly said that schools must continue in-person learning.

“We can get through this latest surge if we work together,” Kettler said.

The St. Cloud bishop even recommended that everyone in the diocese get vaccinated, saying the vaccines “have been consistently evaluated as morally acceptable by the Magisterium of the Church, and do not contain any fetal tissue.”

However, the Church has also maintained that vaccines should be voluntary, not obligatory, and the consciences of people who object to them on religious or medical grounds must be respected.

In that regard, Bishop Kettler clearly bucked magisterial authority by requiring the COVID vaccine for all staff, volunteers, and participants in church programs last May.

“Those who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and those who choose not to be vaccinated, cannot attend these optional programs of our diocese until further notice,” his letter to pastors read.

“Vaccinations are the best approach for making continued progress against the virus and keeping people as safe as possible from its effects.”

The diocesan mask mandate comes a short time after St. Cloud leaders declined to consider a citywide mandate earlier this month. Instead of a mandate, city leaders opted to issue a recommendation that residents “wear masks indoors, limit interactions with others outside their workplace or family, get vaccinated, wash their hands and stay home if they’re sick.”

This apparently didn’t satisfy some residents, so the St. Cloud City Council decided to vote on a mask mandate at its Monday night meeting, but the order failed to pass. This means Catholics in St. Cloud will be required to wear masks in church but nowhere else.

Several Minnesota colleges and universities, such as the University of Minnesota and the College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s University, have also required masks once again, despite near-universal vaccination on their campuses.