Archbishop Alexander Sample preaches at Queen of Peace Church in Salem earlier this spring.
Archbishop Alexander Sample preaches at Queen of Peace Church in Salem earlier this spring.
Updated 5-25-2021

Archbishop Alexander Sample has reassured Oregon Catholics that archdiocesan officials are in close contact with Gov. Kate Brown’s office regarding masking guidelines at Masses, and that the archdiocese is alert to Catholics’ concerns regarding the guidelines.

“We continue to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Portland archbishop’s May 21 announcement read. “Recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control offer hope that we will return to more normal ways of living soon. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been doing our best to keep people safe and healthy when they come to church. We hear and understand your concerns about checking vaccination status and segregation. To this end, we are in contact with the governor's office about the new changes. In the meantime, we thank all our pastors and lay leaders for their good work in navigating their communities during these challenging times.”

Archbishop Sample has entrusted pastors and administrators with making the best decisions possible for their parishes based on respective county risk levels and local circumstances.

Todd Cooper, director of special ministries for the archbishop, said Archbishop Sample made it clear that “if you present yourself within a church without a mask, you are affirming you are fully vaccinated, and if you are not vaccinated you must wear a mask.”

Cooper said that when Archbishop Sample made his initial announcement on May 14 regarding new guidelines for masking and social distancing, it “was in complete accord with the governor and complete accord with the CDC.”

The Catholic Church is not able to check vaccination status and cards, he added. “Operationally it would be impossible for us to introduce that.”

Oregon is among the more cautious states regarding masking rules. A majority have lifted requirements for masks indoors, but Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and a dozen Eastern states, including Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, have not.

Oregon’s updated guidance from May 18 reads: “Fully vaccinated individuals will no longer need to wear a mask indoors in public places where vaccination statuses of individuals are checked (masks will be required in areas where people are not asked about their vaccination status).”

The CDC’s May 13 rule states that “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

The new rule was criticized by social scientists for assuming that unvaccinated individuals would continue masking. Medical anthropologist Martha Lincoln of San Francisco State University told Science News that it would have been preferable to consider “the bigger political, informational and cultural dynamics that are factoring into people’s behavior.”

Cooper, in contrast, said that objectively, the complications of reopening are not going to last long. “The trajectory is very positive,” he said.

Archdiocesan communication on masking and distancing are at archdpdx.org/covid-19-resources.