Given the American Catholic clergy’s response to this Coronavirus pandemic, it is well within reason to ask, “Do our priests and bishops even believe in the sacraments?”
Obviously, with one-third of the planet under “lockdown,” this COVID-19 outbreak has altered the course of human history. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetime, it goes without saying. The President has asked the nation to practice “social distancing,” and to limit public gatherings to less than 10 people. Individual governors, county, and city civil leaders have enacted wide-ranging initiatives to try to curb the spread of this global contagion. California and Ohio citizens are supposed to “shelter in place,” for instance.
All this civil disruption is expected to throw our country into a recession, and if it prolongs, this could all lead to a global depression. All thanks to the release of a disease manufactured in China.
And yet, that is not the worst of it.
You would think, with so many of our lives supposedly at stake that those who have received the Sacraments of Holy Orders would rise up to the occasion. You would think they would ensure their flocks remained spiritually fed, while their bodies were at risk. You would think they would be preaching the need to get to and to remain in a state of grace. You would think they would ready themselves to make converts of those moved to repentance at the fear of death. You would think they would be increasing their presence in this time of great need. You would think.
But instead many Catholic clergy in America, in Rome, and beyond have taken a cowardly approach to this unforeseen global event. Not all but the vast majority of bishops have halted the public celebration of Mass. Many have removed the opportunity for their flock to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
And that’s not even the worse part.
A handful of bishops have even temporarily called on all the Catholic clergy in their diocese to essentially cease administering any of the seven sacraments to the lay faithful. Can you imagine? The successors of the Apostles have decided the lay faithful of their diocese can go without any of the sacraments for a period of time. This is diabolical.
Let me share with you Exhibit A: “Guidelines Following Shelter in Place Order,” Diocese of Dallas, Texas, promulgated (if that’s the right word) March 24, 2020–the day before the Feast of the Annunciation! My wife and I and our children lived in the Diocese of Dallas for over seven years. We have several Godchildren and good friends of ours still living there. So this hits home for me, so to speak.
Keep in mind that the civil authorities of Dallas County have already issued a “Shelter in Place” Order for its residents. In response, Auxiliary Bishop, Greg Kelly, KG, of the Diocese of Dallas, has issued the following guidelines for all the clergy of the entire Diocese of Dallas (not just those within Dallas County itself) to follow “for the purposes of uniformity,” with my commentary in bold.
Guidelines Following Shelter in Place Order March 24-April 3, 2020
The Shelter in Place Order announced for Dallas County and taking effect Monday evening, March 23, are making it clear that restrictions put in place to mitigate effects of the coronavirus may well continue beyond Easter. With this is mind additional guidelines concerning Holy Week and Easter will be sent next Monday.
The “Shelter in Place” order for Dallas County affects only Dallas County. However, for the purposes of uniformity, these guidelines apply across the entire diocese. [Kevin’s commentary: Approximately one million Catholics live in the Diocese of Dallas. All of them are expected to go without the sacraments.]
• There are to be no scheduled gatherings for any reason at the church or on church grounds during this time period, although the church may remain open at times during the daytime hours if this is practicable given the Shelter in Place Order.
• Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is to be temporarily discontinued and parishioners given resources on the parish website for private prayer and spiritual communion.
• Scheduled Confessions at the church are to be temporarily discontinued. [The audacity! It is a pastor’s job to ensure his people remain in a state of grace—especially in times of peril. And instead of upping the Confessional times, especially here in Lent, they are being closed! No balm for your spiritual wounds.] Individual requests in person can be responded to at your discretion, understanding that the Shelter in Place Order does not envision individuals traveling to churches, or priests visiting homes outside of an emergency situation.
• Perfect Contrition: Please be available by telephone or by email to explain to parishioners the nature of Perfect Contrition, which, as articulated by the Catechism (paragraph 1452) and most recently by the Holy Father, “arises from a love by which God is loved above all else” and “obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.” Remain especially encouraging to the Faithful, who may feel despair without access to the Sacrament of Confession. (see fuller reflection on this (Link)) [“Oh, thanks for calling me. Oh, you fear damnation for your soul if you were to die tonight? You want me to hear your confession. Sorry, I need to keep my physical distance from you. But hey, just recite this prayer the bishop reminded me of…” Where’s the assurance in that?]
• Confession and Communion as Viaticum are to be celebrated in danger of death. In the event where COVID-19 is indicated, only hear the person’s confession while remaining at least 6 feet away (closer contact requires special Personal Protective Equipment to avoid a 2-week quarantine). The Apostolic Pardon should also be given. [Yes, at the moment of death from a deadly disease, let’s have priests stay six feet away and expect the dying person to shout his sins aloud for all to hear. Is the priest expected to flick Viaticum (the Eucharist) into the dying person’s mouth from two yards away, as if he is flicking a paper football between the “uprights” of his friends’ hands? And what about the Anointing of the Sick? That’s not even mentioned here, in the event of someone being at the doorstep of death. That has the power to instantly heal someone of physical ailments, if that be God’s will. Well, if you believe that sort of thing.]
• Special attention should be given to the Holy Father’s communications on reconciliation and indulgences. See these on the Vatican website; or links are provided below.
• All Confirmations scheduled through the end of April will be postponed to a later date. [Yet another sacrament denied. The sacrament whereby Catholics are especially equipped to be courageous in difficult times seems a timely one during this crisis. Too bad!]
• Baptisms should be postponed except in emergency situations. In situations of genuine need where a parent expresses concern for the health and life of their child, send them the ritual attached here (Link). [The urgency of baptism is virtually non-existent in the Catholic populace these days, even among Mass-attending Catholics. With so many folks dying and supposedly so many more at risk of imminent death, you would think the Sacrament of Baptism would be a priority during these times. You would think. Instead, are we supposed to just ignore the dogma of Original Sin?]
• Weddings, including Convalidations, should be rescheduled. [Another sacrament bites the dust.] If this is not possible they should be celebrated privately without mass and with no more than 10 people in attendance, including the priest or deacon. Quinceañeras should also be postponed.
• All other parish gatherings should remain cancelled at this time.
Funerals/Wakes/Viewings/Committals Diocese of Dallas Funerals
• Funeral services will be limited to a graveside service with immediate family only and should not exceed 10 people in total, including the minister and the funeral director staff. [Attending funerals, wakes, burials are ways for us to fulfill our duty to perform the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead. Yet, that is being denied to the lay faithful.]
• Memorial Masses will have to be celebrated at a later date once the crisis passes. [The recently deceased may be burning away in purgatory, in urgent need of at least a single Mass said for him, but hey, he can wait. Besides, we will canonize him ourselves when we eulogize him at his funeral Mass, anyway.]
• It is strongly recommended that no one from a vulnerable population attend.
• Social distancing (six feet) should be observed with attendees at all times.
• No physical contact at any point should occur while offering comfort, etc. [Yes, that widow may be balling her eyes out as her husband’s coffin gets lowered into the ground. But don’t give her a hug!]
Wakes and Viewings: These will not be possible at this time.
Memorial Cards, Copies of the obituary: These will be especially important to send to family members and friends who are unable to attend because of these restrictions. No pre- or post-service social gathering is allowed in parish buildings or on parish property.
Please share this information with pastoral sensitivity with funeral directors, bereavement ministry leaders, parish staff and parishioners.
Every effort should be made to stress that these measures are designed out of love and care for all those in attendance, parish and funeral home staff, and those that are most vulnerable at this time. [This is my favorite part of these guidelines: the reassurance that the cancelation of all the sacraments in the diocese is “out of love and care.”] These stipulations are in line with the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local Departments of Public Health. Please emphasize that a Memorial Mass and if possible, a reception will be scheduled at a later time.
All of these guidelines are enacted out of charity, [he repeats himself, to help convince himself, errr, I mean, you that this is all for your good, you see] and concern that members of the Catholic community are kept safe, and do not become carriers of the coronavirus to others in our community. Our hope also is that as there are fewer members of our Catholic community infected by the virus, there will be more lifesaving equipment and hospital beds available for all who have need of these resources. Each measure taken by itself and all of them together constitute a great sacrifice for all of us. However, the Lord never abandons us [Agreed. Not even when our clergy does.] nor does he leave us without the means of expressing our faith in him and fulfilling his commandment: to love him above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. Christ the Good Shepherd is alone the source of our hope and is present among us, leading us through this dark valley.
Bishop Greg Kelly, VG
Links to Vatican Documents on Reconciliation and Indulgences
I would like to ask Bishop Kelly (and Bishop Burns, the head of the Diocese of Dallas) this simple question: why were you ordained, if not to administer the sacraments? Why are you denying your priestly duties when your children are in most need?
Okay, maybe another couple questions: What are fathers supposed to when their children are in great need? Lead, protect, guide, and care for them? Or, abandon them to the wolves? Just whose hide are you trying to save? What exactly are you trying to save your people from? Physical death? Isn’t their eternal security much more important? Cannot Christ save us from this pandemic? Why then deny the lay faithful access to Him? Are not the sacraments able to provide tremendous grace to their recipients? Can you understand then, why I have to ask, do our bishops even believe in the sacraments?
(This article was updated to include the link to the “Guidelines” document issued by the Diocese of Dallas.)
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