In Response to the COVID Crisis, the Church Has Become a Thermometer Instead of a Thermostat
I serve in the leadership of a coalition of several pro-life and Catholic organizations that has sought the restoration of voluntary - for laity and clergy - restoration of Public Masses in the Philadelphia Archdiocese under the conditions instituted in early March 2020 prior to the March 18, 2020 Suspension of such Masses. Archdiocesan spokesman, Kenneth Gavin, has indicated that, because Gov. Tom Wolf is declaring Southeast Pa. to be "yellow" on June 5, 2020, such restoration will begin on June 6, 2020.
However, this Suspension, and its rationale, has caused, and continues to cause, numerous harms to Archdiocesan Catholics and Church Teaching.
1. The lack of Mass and the Eucharist causes spiritual harm to individuals. This Suspension also undermines our Lord's John 6 teaching and the Church's teaching about the Eucharist being the "source and summit" of our spiritual lives.
2. This 80 Day Suspension has effected a de facto agreement that the Mass and the Eucharist are not life-sustaining.
Gov. Wolf's COVID directives never required this suspension. In fact, he made an exception to his "ten-person limit for public gatherings" for "life-sustaining" services.
The refusal of Church leaders to claim this exception provides a terrible example regarding the value they provide to - and their willingness to take some risk to provide - the Mass and the Eucharist. Meanwhile, abortion facility personnel routinely faced risk of COVID to provide their deadly "service" without interruption.
The COVID crisis has offered the Church an opportunity to be a thermostat, i.e., to serve our culture by setting a standard of care for body and soul. Instead, the Church has served as a thermometer, i.e., merely reflecting our culture's lack of care for souls, undue fears, and poor judgment.
Finally, these leaders' frequent promotion of online Masses as an almost adequate substitute undermines any future attempt to reinstate the Church's mandatory Sunday Mass attendance requirement.
3. This lengthy suspension has become a de facto ceding of Archbishop Nelson Pérez' authority to Gov. Wolf.
Civil directives deserve respect by Church authorities, but not blind obedience, especially when issued by public officials, such as Gov. Wolf and Sec. Levine, who are strongly committed to advancing the Culture of Death. Because of this blind obedience, our Church leaders ignored the guidelines of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops and the Catholic Medical Society and delayed the restoration of public Masses until Wolf granted "yellow status" to Southeast Pa.
4. This Suspension has manifested a mission change from saving souls to a rival mission of "safetyism."
The Great Commission is inherently unsafe, as foretold by our Lord and evidenced by the lives of the Apostles, Saints, and martyrs. Yet, Archdiocesan spokesman Kenneth Gavin attempted to justify this Suspension by declaring "We must do our part to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus." Given that COVID (just like the flu) is permanently in our population, this purported duty would justify the permanent suspension of Public Masses. Our Lord desires meaningful lives not safe lives.
5. Many Catholic Parishes and Catholic Schools will Close.
The likely large post-Suspension decline in Mass attendance will cause these closures. In addition to the spiritual harms, the Pa. COVID Shutdown is resulting in vast economic hardships, which will result in the significantly reduced ability of laity to make donations and/or pay tuitions.
Summary: Be Not Afraid
COVID poses little danger to healthy people - and does not justify an 80 Day Suspension of Public Masses. Fear of public controversy motivated this gratuitous and harmful Suspension. Yet, our Lord repeatedly admonished His followers to "Be Not Afraid" because "Love casts out fear." Let us work to transform the results of the COVID Suspension into a renewed love for the Mass and the Eucharist - and a renewed zeal for advancing a Culture of Life.
Michael J. McMonagle, President, Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania