10:13 a.m.: Winter weather will make outdoor church services difficult for attendees

With the winter weather arriving soon, churchgoers might find attending outdoor services a little difficult, so Catholic Bishop Myron

Cotta of the Stockton Diocese is asking community county leaders for an exemption to resume indoor services.

California health officials have been moving counties back into the purple tier, the most restrictive tier in the state’s COVID-19 reopening system.

The Stockton Diocese covers San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mono and Alpine counties. Both Mono and Alpine counties are in the red tier, so their church services can still be held indoors, but the other counties in the Stockton Diocese are all in the purple tier, where indoor worship is banned.

Chandler Marquez, communications director for the Stockton Diocese, said that no COVID-19 outbreaks were attributed to church gatherings when indoor services were allowed since they followed some coronavirus safety measures.

“Temperatures were taken at the door; there’s also a log of people who come to indoor worship for contact tracing if needed,” Marquez said. “Wearing masks was mandatory, and the church building itself was sanitized between services.”

San Joaquin County Counsel Mark Myles says there’s not much wiggle room for the county in light of the state’s mandatory orders.

“We have an obligation to follow the directive of the state,” Myles said. “The county supervisors can’t override the public health orders of the state.”

Attorney Dean Broyles defended a Lodi church earlier this year when they attempted to defy the state’s orders and was shut down. He said the Supreme Court’s ruling on allowing indoor services in New York does not necessarily apply to California at this time, but future litigation could.

“If churches are meeting otherwise safely that the government can’t arbitrarily limit the number of people meeting in church,” Broyles said.

For the one and a half million Catholics in the diocese, worship will have to be outdoors or online for the immediate future.

Bishop Cotta can only ask his parishioners for their prayers.

“Brothers and sisters, this truly has been and continues to be a stressful and trying time for all of us,” Cotta said. “Pray for God’s mercy an end to this time of uncertainty, suffering, and loss.”

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