On Wednesday, Las Cruces Bishop Peter Baldacchino advised his priests to resume their ministry, in accordance with state-ordered health guidelines, making it clear he does not agree with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order of no more than five people congregating in one place.
“We [as priests] have been called by Christ and ordained to serve the people of the Diocese of Las Cruces, to bring them hope and consolation during this difficult time,” Baldacchino wrote.
“In the events of these days and weeks the Lord is calling us out of our comfort zone, he is calling us to seek new ways to reach the people. In addition to this mission with which we are entrusted, we also have the mission to keep people safe. The two must be equally pursued.”
“While it is true that we need to take every reasonable precaution to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, it is equally true that we offer the greatest ‘essential service’ to our people. The past few weeks have brought to light many unintended consequences of the ‘stay-at-home’ order,” he continued.
According to the Catholic News Agency, “Baldacchino is the first U.S. bishop known to have amended a previously declared diocesan ban on public Masses since the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the U.S. last month.”
The news comes amid Gov. Lujan Grisham sending State Police out to hunt down people of faith who are defying her ban on church gatherings announced the day before Easter Sunday.
In the Governor’s announcement of the ban, she said she wanted to make clear that “home is also holy,” mentioning the Jewish Passover and the Islamic Ramadan as other holy occasions. The announcement just so happened to come out the same day the Albuquerque Journal published an op-ed from a leftist columnist who harassed an elderly pro-life man, where she echoed much of the same language in the piece.
Audio obtained by KIVA 93.7 FM/1600 AM’s “Rock of Talk” host Eddy Aragon, shows state police calling churches, saying they’ve had “complaints” that the churches have remained open, and they must suspend all gatherings immediately.
In once call from an “Officer Price” to the New Hope Revival Church, he informs the church they are “non-essential and this business should be closed down until further notice until this epidemic is over and completed.”
Another call from Gov Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office to Pastor Jeff Carr of Mesa Baptist Church in Rio Rancho informs the church of the Governor’s order while giving guidelines that are supported, including “online services, drive-in services where people remain in the car with their windows rolled up… or listen to a radio service, honk their horns for ‘Amen!’ and so on.”
On Monday, Legacy Church in Albuquerque filed a lawsuit against the State of New Mexico claiming Gov. Lujan Grisham violated the First Amendment protecting their freedom of religion. Head Pastor Steve Smothermon said, “Really what I consider a very egregious act on her part that at 5 o’clock on Saturday she puts out this new order for churches basically not making churches essential when they were before, and she does it on the eve of Easter.”
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a statement on social distancing and religious practices in light of a church in Greenville, Mississippi where congregants were fined $500 for participating in a church service from their cars. “Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” wrote Barr.
The Las Cruces Bishop’s decision to resume Catholic mass services will test what lengths Gov. Lujan Grisham is willing to go to clamp down on religious believers practicing their faith, as she is allegedly a member of the Catholic faith.