As Pandemic Drags On, Some Texas Catholics Are Told To Come Back To Church
Just as it has for a lot of Catholic families these days, church has gone digital for the Cosgroves during the pandemic.
Every Sunday, Sofia Cosgrove, her husband Michael and their three kids – ages 7, 5, and 3 – watch services conducted by their home church: Holy Cross Catholic Church in Bay City, located between Victoria and Houston. The Cosgroves miss going to church in person, but watching the stream on the church’s Facebook page does have its advantages.
“I don’t mind it. Actually, I don’t know if it’s selfish of me to say, but it’s easier to do with the kids at home, because there’s always a disaster with screaming kids and taking them out,” Sofia Cosgrove said. “This is a little bit easier for me, if they have to go to the bathroom it’s not a big deal, we can pause it and come back to it.”
Cosgrove said she doesn’t feel safe attending mass in person because of the coronavirus. Under normal circumstances, Catholics are required to go to mass. Missing a Sunday service is a sin unless you have a valid excuse like being sick. But during the pandemic, Texas Catholics have been given a dispensation from attending mass in-person. It’s like getting hall pass to stay away from church.
But that’s starting to change in some places. On October 1, Bishop Brendan Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria ended the dispensation for in-person mass.
The resumed attendance requirement does not apply to people who are sick, the elderly, their caretakers, or those who have a comorbidity that puts them at particular risk if they contract COVID-19.
But reinstating the obligation to return to mass in-person puts the Victoria diocese – the term for a group of Catholic churches in a given region – in the minority in Texas. Of the state’s 15 dioceses, only the Diocese of Victoria and the Diocese of Corpus Christi have ended the dispensation for going to church in person.
Some Catholics in those areas, like Cosgrove, are bothered by it.
“I’m really upset because I feel like they’re asking us to put our family in danger, and if you don’t go, we’re wrong,” she said.
Right now, Cosgrove’s oldest daughter is taking classes online to prepare for her first communion – a major milestone in the life of a Catholic. The classes are only offered in-person at her home church though, so her daughter is taking the classes remotely through a church in San Antonio. And now that the bishop has said most people should return to services, her church in Bay City doesn’t plan to keep livestreaming its services anymore either.
“I just hope they reconsider because I feel abandoned from our parish, I feel like they left us behind,” Cosgrove said.
Still, many Catholics are going to church in person; some with enthusiasm. Barb Wilcox is from Victoria and attends several different churches around the area. She tries to go to mass every day, so when churches were totally closed earlier in the pandemic, it was hard on her.
“It was such a great loss. You almost felt everyday like, ‘What am I forgetting? I’m forgetting something.’ I personally grieved over not being able to attend,” she said.
Wilcox says she feels safe at church. Worshippers are required to stay distanced from one another, and are encouraged to wear masks. Catching the coronavirus isn’t her biggest worry when she thinks about the current upswing in cases.
“I’m very concerned with hearing things about shutdowns again, that they’re going to decide to shut down churches again. I do have that fear, I have that fear,” she said.
A shutdown isn’t in the plans though. Since announcing a return to in-person mass, the Victoria diocese has reported over 50 coronavirus cases in its churches and schools. Even with the new cases, the bishop has not put the dispensation for in-person mass attendance back in place.