The Role of Churches During COVID

 In these highly polarized times, it is useful to look at our Christian forefathers to understand: “Why did they do that?”

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes how secularized most churches have become. Two axioms can help find a way forward.  First, there is nothing new under the sun. The characters and technology have changed. But as in all past tyrannies, vanity and greed consistently drive the desire to control and subjugate.  This especially applies to pride-filled Marxists.  Second, those who do not learn history are bound to repeat it.   In 1846, Pope Pius IX was warning about communism’s “destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself”.  The churches now seem to have a greater desire for some ambiguous version of safety, instead of promoting rights of conscience and zeal to worship. 

There are few times in history that churches have closed for significant periods. More often, Christians were instead willing to risk their own health to help those who were ill. Rather than fleeing the cities and the source of the latest plague, many of the early faithful chose to remain or even come to the cities, to treat and to minister. The risk of death was secondary to their mission to save souls.  The pagans marveled at their actions.  Many considered them reckless or foolhardy.  Many others were converted, however, when they saw the joy, and the lack of fear of death, of these adherents to “the Way.”  The number of Christians rapidly increased. 

The Christian zeal to love others, which included ministering to the sick and evangelizing the pagans, is replete in our history. Many ministered to the sick at great personal risk, including saints Roch, Catherine of Sienna, Charles Borromeo, Don Bosco, and Damien of Molokai.  Think of how many hospitals were started by orders of sisters in North America in the recent past.  The zeal was still there, at least recently.

In the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, many governments required that gatherings be limited, or canceled altogether.  This also applied to churches.  As our understanding of the virus increased, and the treatments for those infected improved, then the government’s basis for these restrictions disappeared. COVID-19 can be quite harmful to “at risk” people. However, most, especially the young, have a tremendously high survival rate.  This virus is not smallpox or polio, as is evidenced by the mortality rates.   

We have a duty to act for the common good.  Acting in a reckless or culpably negligent manner regarding the spreading of disease is not appropriate.  A well-formed conscience will provide for the common good. Does a well-formed conscience allow one to refuse the current COVID-19 vaccines? The National Center for Catholic Bioethics answers this question: “There is no universal moral obligation to accept or refuse [the vaccine], and it should be a voluntary decision of the individual.”  The Center states that one should use other reasonable measures to prevent the spread of the virus if choosing not to be vaccinated.  No credible Christian theologian has disagreed with this stance. 

Protecting the right to a well-formed conscience is a duty of the Church.  We still marvel at saints who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their conscience rights, such as Saints Thomas More, John Fisher, and Thomas Becket.  Why would they do that, when the ease of simply acquiescing was clearly available?  And why do we venerate them now?  We do not have feast days for the other English bishops who acquiesced to the king’s oath contained in the Succession Acts.  Clergy must realize that there is no prior example in modernity of a disease compelling a person to accept a drug which they have reasonable ethical and medical reasons to avoid.  They must act to protect the well-formed consciences of all persons of goodwill if the Church still believes it is a primary guardian of conscience rights.    

There are many times in the past 23 months that governments and businesses have taken excessive actions.  In the Canadian province of New Labrador, the Grand Falls Catholic Diocese has enacted requirements that people present the NLVaxPass to attend Mass. Those who are not vaccinated are excluded from church services, which is a form of apartheid.  New Brunswick province also has rules prohibiting grocery stores from selling food to the unvaccinated. The clergy and laity must recognize that a digital vaccine passport is a necessary and logical extension of the coercive measures to promote vaccination. Even now, New York and California are requiring proof of vaccination to participate in polite society.  Germany is warning it will mandate everyone be vaccinated by February 2022, period. 

The tyranny and division promoted by Marxism are back in a new iteration and must be resisted.  The clergy might do well to make it clear they will not participate in any passport system.  Many wonder if their shepherds listen more closely to actuaries determining liability risks than their own flocks’ pleas for access to the sacraments.  At this point, the clergy should understand that the Church is to be a beacon of hope, even during a pandemic, and do whatever it takes to provide access to services and sacraments.

A belief that medical apartheid is an acceptable way to keep the faithful “safe” within church buildings is a misunderstanding of our duty to promote the common good. Segregating our brethren for this particular disease offends our religious duty to evangelize by our example, creates unnecessary division, and is unconstitutional. The Church cannot ignore how much damage the lack of access to the community of worship and the sacraments has caused.  Christians cannot again willingly participate in such COVID-19-borne restrictions.

Christian churches have a duty to resist closure, medical apartheid, and the whitewashing of conscience rights.  Marxists know their ideology thrives on this type of division.  Christianity is to be the counterpoint ideology to such tyrants.  Clergy must promote Christian zeal to worship as a community, even during a pandemic, must remember their duty to oppose tyrants, and must be the guardians of conscience rights that all free people own. 

Image: Horia Varlan

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