As the Bridgeport Diocese works to reopen churches for the public celebration of Mass, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said the prime reason to suspend services was “our common moral obligation to protect human life.”

He said “given all the misinformation that exists in the media, we must never forget that the decision was rooted in a commitment to remain faithful to a central tenet of our Catholic faith.”

Writing on his Facebook page and the Bridgeport Diocese’s web site Caggiano said, “the grave reason that motivated the suspension of public Mass was our commitment to the central Catholic belief in the sanctity of every human life and our common moral obligation to protect human life.”

On Thursday, the first public Mass was held at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church in Bridgeport. The outdoor Mass was one of the first in the county since coronavirus health concerns put restrictions on public gatherings including religious services. It was held behind the church in the grotto, which was only completed about a year ago.

The diocese, which includes all Roman Catholic churches in Fairfield County, will hold masses in one of two ways, Caggiano said.

The first format will offer seating arranged according to “proper social distancing,” and will support a maximum of 50 people. The second will involve parishioners remaining seated in their cars. The number of cars permitted will depend upon the size of the parking lot, the need to distance cars six feet apart from each other and allow for the safe exit of any car in case of an emergency

“The good news is that the celebration of public Mass has begun in our Diocese outdoors, in a manner that every health official considers the safest venue in which to congregate, following social distancing rules,” Caggiano said.

“While this is a first step forward, we are all anxious to be able to resume the public celebration of Masses in our churches as well. To this end, we will soon make a public announcement about how and when we can reopen our church buildings.”

Caggiano’s message was posted the day after President Donald Trump labeled churches and other houses of worship as “essential" and called on governors nationwide to let them reopen this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.

Trump stressed the importance of churches in many communities and said he was “identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services.”

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, Trump said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential. These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united.”

Caggiano said the decision not to hold public services was never based on any debate about whether our Catholic faith and its practice is “essential.”

“For anyone who believes, this issue is not debatable. The practice of our faith is at the heart of who we are. The Eucharist sustains our daily life and temporarily to suspend its public celebration could only be justified by a grave, moral cause.

“Recognizing the great pain that was caused by the suspension, our churches have remained open for private prayer, Eucharistic adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. To be clear, the practice of our Catholic faith is essential and necessary for our personal salvation as revealed by our Savior and Redeemer,” Caggiano wrote.

“When it became clear that the passing of the COVID-19 virus often occurs by asymptomatic persons sharing regular human contact, time was needed to understand how such infections occur, the best ways to avoid passing the contagion, all the while maintaining as much of the public practice of the faith as was prudent and still protecting human life- especially the elderly and sick in our midst. In the last eight weeks, we have made much progress in this regard, allowing us to begin the resumption of public worship in a prudent and gradual manner,” the bishop wrote.

“If we failed to protect human life during this pandemic, how can we ever hope to convert our society to end the culture of death and to recognize and protect every human life?