San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy.
Bishop Robert McElroy leads a diocese that runs the length of California’s border with Mexico and serves more than 1.3 million Catholics in San Diego and Imperial Counties with 98 parishes, and 49 elementary and secondary schools. Photo by Chris Stone

Catholic parishes may open for indoor services Sunday following Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, but that decision has been left to the discretion of individual churches, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

In the high court’s decision, justices granted a partial injunction against California’s public health orders prohibiting indoor worship services during the pandemic.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy issued a statement Saturday noting that pastors in the diocese may immediately host mass or other indoor services, while also capping capacity at 25%, a portion of the state’s health orders that the court upheld.

“I am delighted that the Court has taken this judicious step that expands the options for religious worship, while recognizing equally the health imperatives that are required in this moment,” McElroy said in the statement.

“Although the path out of this pandemic is now clear, it remains a deadly fact of life and will be through the summer or fall of this year.  All of us need to remain vigilant, wear a mask, get vaccinated when it’s our turn and do what we need to do to protect friends, family and the vulnerable among us.”

The Supreme Court ruled in response to filings on behalf of the 600-seat South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

California’s regional stay-at-home orders prohibit indoor activities across a broad range of industries. Outdoor religious services, however, are allowed.

Representatives for South Bay and Harvest Rock have argued that outdoor worship or those held by video-conferencing are “inadequate substitutes” for in-person gatherings and that the public health orders prohibit the church “from holding the services mandated by scripture.”

They have also argued that California has arbitrarily allowed certain sectors to stay open and conduct indoor operations, while discriminating against religious institutions.

Charles LiMandri, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm that worked with the church on the legal battle, noted South Bay’s victory, while saying “our case against Governor (Gavin) Newsom continues.”

“It is time for the United State Constitution to be honored in the State of California and we thank the high court for upholding religious liberty and acting on South Bay’s behalf,” LiMandri said.

– Staff and wire reports