OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland has told pastors and parishioners that reopening churches for worship will be approached in a deliberative manner and that it “will be quite some time” before returning to familiar ways of worship.

In a statement to Catholics of the Diocese, Bishop Michael C. Barber indicated that the guidelines from Governor Gavin Newsom and public health authorities need to be followed.

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“Governor Newsom and the California Department of Public Health have issued overarching guidelines for places of worship that are positive, constructive and fundamentally in alignment with the recommendations the California Catholic Bishops have offered in consultation with State and local officials,” said Barber.

Barber said he has guidance to our pastors on outdoor Mass and distribution of Communion outside of Mass while observing public health standards, but reminded parishioners that he has lifted the obligation of attending Mass until further notice, with livestreaming and other options being acceptable alternatives.

“Amidst the many voices declaring how churches should “reopen,” I hope to minimize confusion and provide clear guidance to the Catholics of our diocese as we draw upon the sacraments and our communities for strength and blessing,” said Barber. “Public health and safety remain my paramount concern. Safety precautions, such as social distancing, are a practical demonstration of our call to love our neighbor.”

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Barber said he was now waiting on specific rules and regulations from Alameda and Contra Costa County health officials on reopening churches, and he would then issue specific instructions to priests on what the resumption of public Masses will look like. Pastors would then determine a timeline appropriate for each parish.

“It will be quite some time before we return to the familiar ways of worship that sustained us before the pandemic, and when we can live our faith with the same fervor as we are now expressing our charity and love for our neighbors,” said Barber.

The Oakland Diocese covers churches in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. On Wednesday, The Roman Catholic Bishops of California issued a statement commending public health officials and offering gratitude for being consulted on the guidelines issued on Tuesday for places of worship to reopen.

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The statement from the bishops’ group and Barber come in contrast with those of the leader of the Santa Rosa Diocese. Bishop Robert Vasa has given his pastors the green light to open churches starting on Sunday without Sonoma County health officials’ approval.