FR. JERRY HERDA
I recently had coffee with a friend who expressed deep, almost bitter, feelings regarding the Church’s response to COVID-19. He feels like our leadership has “caved” to society’s pressures and have made the priority to keep people safe more important than the need for people to be engaged in the sacraments, and has done some damage to the Church that will be challenging to overcome. Is he right?
Allow me to respond with a few thoughts. First, I am very saddened by how the coronavirus has divided our Church and divided our country. In my role as Vicar for Clergy, almost every day I deal with phone calls and emails from people, some complaining that we should allow communion on the tongue, and some complaining that we should not allow communion on the tongue. Some complaining that we should make masks at Mass mandatory, while others are complaining they don’t want to wear a mask. Some complaining that we should not have re-opened the churches, and others complaining that we are letting the government dictate the Church and we should never have closed the churches. The one thing I know for certain is the devil is working overtime to divide our Church.
Second, this virus is very different from most anything we have ever experienced. It is often referred to as the invisible enemy, and there is so much that we do not know about COVID-19. Some people without symptoms test positive for the virus and are hardly sick from it, while others get severely sick from the virus, some end up in the hospital and, unfortunately, some die from COVID-19.
So, let me tell you a little about the early conversations that the leadership of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had about this pandemic. The discussion from the very beginning was that we, as a Catholic Church, are a pro-life church. We believe and teach that we should do everything in our power to preserve life. This seems obvious when we talk about abortion, but being a pro-life church also applies with this virus. The reality is that if you get the virus, there is a high likelihood that you are going to infect other people. If you infect the elderly and vulnerable, there is a possibility they are going to die. With this knowledge, we needed to do everything we could, as a pro-life Church, to keep people safe and to prevent the spread of this virus.
Unfortunately, too many people are taking a selfish approach to this virus. Their comments are “don’t tell me what to do,” or “I have the right to do what I want.” With this virus, the decisions we each make can have a profound effect not only on our life but on the lives of others as well.
There is little doubt in my mind that the Catholic Church will have challenging days ahead. So much of what we are doing as a Church is contradictory to what we have been taught. We are telling people to stay away from Mass. For those who come, we have been telling them not to sing, stay away from other people, no handshakes and no hugs. It all seems wrong, but we do so because we are a pro-life Church. We, as both individuals and as a Church, need to do everything we can to keep people safe and bring this virus to an end.