A small number of Catholic churches in Sonoma County plan to hold Mass this Sunday, defying county health orders that prohibit gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Santa Rosa Diocese Bishop Robert Vasa said Wednesday.

Vasa said he will not forbid parish priests from reopening their churches for Mass this Sunday but has advised them to comply with directives from Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase.

“I’m not standing in the way of communities that have judged they can open responsibly and eliminate the risk of harm to the congregation,” Vasa said.

The “vast majority” of Catholic churches in Sonoma County will remain closed to in-person services on Sunday, Vasa said. But he is leaving the final decision to individual churches, he said, and “a couple” will open their doors to services on Pentecost Sunday….

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was allowing church, synagogue and mosque services to move indoors in counties, like Sonoma, that have been granted state variances within Stage 2 of California’s process of reopening from the coronavirus-triggered shutdown. But several hours later, Mase said the county would continue to prohibit indoor church gatherings, citing what she called “red flags” in local virus data.

That news did not sit well with Vasa, whose diocese covers six counties and 178,443 members in 41 parishes, according to the church website….

Vasa had been hoping Sonoma County would post a definitive update on its COVID-19 webpage Wednesday. But because nothing had changed in Mase’s guidance for churches, her May 1 public health order — the last to address indoor services — still applies, a spokeswoman for the county said.

“Houses of Worship are not physically open for congregational activities at this time,” that order reads. “Check with your church, synagogue or other house of worship to see if it has virtual streaming or similar technology.”

Vasa said he has obeyed the rules laid down by Newsom and Mase, but isn’t entirely clear on how to interpret what are now disparate guidelines on church services….

Four of the six counties within the Diocese of Santa Rosa — Napa, Lake, Humboldt and Del Norte — followed Newsom’s lead in reopening worship services while limiting capacity to either 25 percent of normal or 100 total worshippers, whichever is less. Mendocino County expects to issue a revised directive this week, and the Catholic priest who has been working with county officials there told Vasa that Mendocino, too, will give the go-ahead for Sunday.

That leaves Sonoma County as the only jurisdiction in Vasa’s diocese still limiting churches to outdoor and online services….

Vasa is convinced the churches and worshippers in Sonoma County are being punished for the mistakes made by others — specifically, by revelers who flooded some of the county’s recreational areas over the hot Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ll be masked, relatively quiet. We will not violate any of the rules,” he said of his parishes. “And yet we’re being singled out, not permitted to engage in what we do, specifically because people on the Russian River didn’t follow the guidelines. If that’s the case, then close them down and open us up….”

The above comes from a May 27 story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.