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Reduced numbers in the congregation worship at a Sunday morning Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge. Bishop Michael Duca speaks to the congregation.

The Roman Catholic bishop of Baton Rouge considers weekly whether to lift an order that lets members of his flock miss Mass on Sundays because of the coronavirus pandemic, but no changes are in the works just yet.

Bishop Michael Duca said late Thursday that a dispensation remains in place for Catholics he leads. A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Lafayette had said this week she believed the dispensation was "under discussion" among the state's bishops.

Duca said the status quo remains for the 212,000 Catholics in the diocese, which has 64 church parishes in 12 civil parishes in and around Baton Rouge.

"We are maintaining our current policies but are re-evaluating them each week. No date has been set to lift the dispensation," he said late Thursday.

Baton Rouge-area Catholic churches to keep coronavirus rules for now, bishop says

Catholics are required to attend Mass each Sunday and holy day, unless there are serious extenuating circumstances such as illness. When the pandemic began last year, bishops worldwide dropped the requirement in an effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus and to protect members of their flocks. Some, like Duca, closed churches altogether.

Several parishes began to livestream their services on the internet to stay connected to parishioners, a practice that has continued even after Catholic churches reopened with limited capacity.

Diocese of Lafayette spokesperson Blue Rolfes said this week she thought the matter was “under discussion” among bishops.

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When will Catholics return to Mass? Louisiana bishops may soon meet to discuss a plan.

“It’s all up to the bishops,” she said. “They like to be on the same page.”

In Louisiana, the Diocese of Lake Charles lifted the dispensation before Christmas, except for those at special risk of illness. The Diocese of Shreveport lifted the dispensation under the same exceptions during the week leading into Easter.

The others dioceses in Louisiana, based in Alexandria, Houma-Thibodaux and Lafayette, along with the Archdiocese of New Orleans had continued the dispensation into this week.

While Louisiana has moved to a third phase of reopening its economy amid a recovery from the pandemic, Duca has kept restrictions in place. The state says churches may reopen fully, but in Baton Rouge diocesan safeguards remain.

They include wearing masks and physically distancing in houses of worship — accomplished by using every other row of pews — and sanitizing hands and buildings. 

Duca said previously the transition back to a complete lifting of coronavirus restrictions will be "a bit complex since it will probably not have a defined moment of ending and beginning."

Staff writers Ken Stickney and Matthew Albright contributed to this report.


Email Kelly P. Kissel at kkissel@theadvocate.com