Editor's Note: During the month of May, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lorentsen, pastor of St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Park, wrote to his parishioners about churches being closed around the Diocese of Trenton. Following is his statement:

May the Lord give you His peace!

Some parishioners are expressing their disappointment and even anger that Saint Junipero Serra Parish has not opened its church doors for the celebration of Sunday Eucharist. We have not had public Masses, and we will not do so at this time.

I want to be clear. The State of New Jersey nor our governor closed our churches. Bishop of Trenton David O’Connell, C.M., closed our churches. I know that first-hand. Bishop O’Connell has stated this fact explicitly to his priests and diocesan staff. He keeps repeating this fact. Bishop O’Connell closed the parishes in the Diocese of Trenton. He has the complete authority to do so and every right to do so according to the Code of Canon Law in the Catholic Church. Saint John Paul II promulgated the current Code of Canon Law in 1983. This common law of the church is explicit on the matter at hand.

Canon 515

     §1. A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular Church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop.

     §2. The diocesan bishop alone is competent to erect, suppress or alter parishes; he is not to erect, suppress or notably alter them without hearing the presbyteral council.

Bishop O’Connell closed our churches in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These closures are temporary and are a robust attempt to lower the rates of infection, mitigate the spread of the virus, protect the members of the parish, most especially our senior members and now also our youngest members in light of increasing cases of Pediatric Inflammatory Syndrome that may be linked to COVID-19. The churches are closed to protect the people who gather in them. Again, these closures are TEMPORARY.

During this time of closed churches, Bishop O’Connell has dispensed all Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton from their obligation to gather for Sunday Eucharist.  You are not obligated to participate in Sunday Mass.

Re-opening our churches will occur through a series of PHASES. The phases and their restrictions and limits form another robust attempt to lower the rates of infection in our area, mitigate the spread of the virus, protect the members of the parish.

On May 8, Bishop O’Connell initiated Phase ONE of the reopening process. This phase opens our churches for those who would like to visit the church for private prayer. The Phase ONE directives for Saint Junipero Serra Parish are my implementation of the Diocese of Trenton Phase ONE directives for our particular needs in our particular locale.

As Pastor of Saint Junipero Serra Parish, I agree completely with these directives for the safety of our parish and our parishioners. I have implemented these directives for the common good of the parish and our local community. These directives will remain in place here in Saint Junipero Serra Parish until our bishop decides to move us to Phase TWO.

Gathering as church for the celebration of Sunday Eucharist is a free expression of religion which the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects. At the same time, competent religious authorities in a particular religion exercise their authority and free expression of religion in making the painful decision to close churches and houses of worship during a time of pandemic or public health emergency. We exercise our common free expression of faith, hope and love as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ by staying home, staying safe, wearing masks, washing our hands and maintaining social distancing so as to mitigate the further spread of the COVID-19 virus and to mitigate any chance of increasing the rate of infection.

Any right that a person claims necessitates a firm sense of responsibility as well. In this time of pandemic, opening our churches too quickly puts our people at risk. We will not do that. Catholic moral teaching articulates consistently and unapologetically the dignity of each and every human person and our common responsibility to work for the common good.

A human being has rights to all things essential for reasonable development of the person consistent with the rights of others to essential things for their personal development. Lack of caution about the seriousness of the possibility of COVID-19 contamination and/or infection inhibits a person’s reasonable development and undermines the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of life, and the search for the common good. Our biblical tradition is quite clear that we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. Sharing in word and sacrament moves us towards charity for others most especially the poor and the marginalized.

At this time in our history as a church and as a parish, we exercise Christian love by working for the safety and well-being of all. We do these acts of love while maintaining communion with one another and our bishop. We act in love by keeping one another safe just like the church is doing in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Japan and throughout the world. We need to be patient with one another and we need to persevere in love.

Phase TWO of reopening is in the not-too-distant future, we pray. In the meantime, stay safe and well.   

Peace and all good,

Fr. Michael