As President Trump called upon governors to classify churches as essential, a Catholic Bishop in a state among the least impacted by Covid-19 suspended public Mass.
I have to write about this now because I wrote about it then. During the now notorious presidential election of 2016, I wrote “Wikileaks Found Catholics in the Basket of Deplorables.” If you missed it then, you probably should not miss it now. I and many others naively lent credence to all the media hype about Russian collusion back then – now proven to be entirely false and an egregious injustice to General Michael Flynn. The above post actually commended the Russian hackers for providing transparency often promised but rarely delivered by American politicians.
That post was about revelations found in the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, about the Democratic Party’s plans for the Catholic Church in America. I wrote the post just after Mrs. Clinton’s now infamous debate declaration: “Supporters of Donald Trump are a Basket of Deplorables.” I was not one of Donald Trump’s supporters, but I knew that Hillary lost the election then and there. Attacking candidates is just politics as usual. Attacking voters is political suicide.
The post above cited several examples of emails between the Clinton campaign and various Catholic entities with overtures to move the Church from a pro-life agenda toward a more left-leaning script for Catholic social progress. Climate change and open borders are to be the moral imperatives of the day.
I had more or less forgotten about the now famous Basket of Deplorables until the current election raised it anew – though not in so many words. Three years after the term was first
uttered, many in the news media still apply it by inference to everything and everyone in any way connected to the current American President.
Now thrust upon his growing heap of media scorn is a call from the President to America’s governors to give churches and other houses of worship the same treatment some of them have bestowed upon liquor stores, abortion clinics, and beauty salons. This President wants churches to be deemed “essential.” He at first threatened to “override” any governor who balks at this, a notion that the news media has gone to great lengths to ridicule. In a hastily scheduled White House Press Conference, Trump said:
- “I call upon the governors to allow our churches or places of worship to open. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders will make sure their congregations are safe as they gather and pray.”
On May 22, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control supplemented the President’s request by laying out a series of guidelines for houses of worship to safely provide services. These include the usual recommendations for social distancing, cleaning practices, and face coverings all of which churches could easily observe.
THE REAL PRESENCE AND THE PRESENT ABSENCE
But what do we do when it is Catholic bishops, and not politicians, closing church doors to faithful Catholics? As the American President deemed churches to be essential and called to reopen them, the Catholic Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, one of the states least impacted by the contagion, issued his formal “Decree Establishing Liturgical Norms During Covid-19 Pandemic”:
- “Mindful that the dignity of the human person requires the pursuit of the common good (CCC 1926) and as Bishop of the Diocese of Manchester understanding my responsibility to issue liturgical norms by which all are bound (Canon 838:4), I hereby decree [that] the public celebration of Mass remains suspended… until such time as I deem it prudent to modify [this decree].”
There are a multitude of reasons why the ongoing suspension of Catholic Mass in this of all states is an unintended assault upon the religious needs of the people. In a surprising juxtaposition of roles, as some bishops closed churches and barred the faithful from Mass, the Centers for Disease Control issued a statement that should give pause to secular and spiritual leaders alike: “Millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life.”
I would have expected such a sentiment from our bishops, not from a government entity established to control contagion. Sadly, however, that truth professed by the CDC applies less to New Hampshire than any other state. According to the Pew Research Center, New Hampshire is ranked 50th out of the fifty states for religious identity, observance, and influence. It also ranks 50th out of the fifty states in charitable giving.
In publishing his recent Decree, the Bishop of the Diocese of Manchester, NH, Bishop Peter A. Libasci, stated that as of May 18, 2020, over 3,600 New Hampshire citizens [out of a population of over 1.3 million] have tested positive for COVID-19, and 172 of our neighbors have lost their lives.” This is true, and at this writing the death toll in New Hampshire stands at about 250. Tragically, all but 65 of them were residents of nursing homes, the most vulnerable among us but they would not have been present at Mass anyway. These figures pale next to how Covid-19 has impacted some other states where governors and bishops are reopening churches while applying the norms for safety recommended by the CDC.
But there is another New Hampshire statistic that should be far more alarming to both the Governor and the Bishop. Among the fifty states, New Hampshire has the nation’s highest and most hopeless rate of death among working age young adults between the ages of 16 and 40. This is driven by another, far more deadly contagion: opiate addiction and all the physical, mental and spiritual hopelessness it entails. I wrote about this Grim Reaper in “America’s Opioid Epidemic Is Wreaking Havoc in this Prison.”
That post described a wall of sorrows in one unit in this prison containing the photos of young men who have lost their lives to addiction after leaving prison. The 37 photos on that wall of death included only those who lived in this one unit of 288 prisoners. And just as I sat down to type this post, a 38th photo was added. One of our good friends just tragically ended up on that wall.
Jerry came to prison at age 19 in 2005. In recent years, he attended Sunday Mass with Pornchai Moontri and me. Before the Covid-19 shut down he was able to come and talk to me in the prison Law Library where I work. On Friday, May 15, 2020 he was released from prison having completed his sentence at age 33. He lived in freedom for only a single day before losing his life to a fentanyl overdose. This is a painfully familiar story here as young prisoners face the reality that life in freedom sometimes means bringing the bondage of addiction home with them.
Bishop Libasci’s Decree cited his justification for keeping the churches closed: “172 of our neighbors have lost their lives” to Covid-19 statewide. This pales next to the grim truth of those in his Diocese who lost their lives in hopeless addiction. The New Hampshire Chief Medical Examiner reports that 2,500 young lives were lost to opioid drug overdoses in this small state since 2015.
Most of these deaths were those of young men and women from 16 to 40 years of age. One small New Hampshire city recently saw over 400 drug overdose deaths in a single year. There is likely no other state more in need of the spiritual strength and solace of open churches and the Sacrifice of the Mass than New Hampshire.
TRUSTING FAITHFUL CATHOLICS
One commenter on this subject in a Facebook discussion (which I could not see because I have never seen Facebook) commended Bishop Libasci and other bishops for helping to keep people safe by closing churches. I could only think of a statement of Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
- “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11)
The point should be obvious. When I was seven, I needed the help of adults to take care of myself. At sixty-seven that is simply no longer so. The Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines for what we adults must do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe in public environments, including at Mass.
This is a point for which conservatives and Libertarians refer to the Left as purveyors of Big Government and “The Nanny State.” And it’s a point for which George Orwell cautioned us all in his dystopian 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. We surrender our freedoms when we hand the interpretation of them over to “Big Brother.” Remember the cautionary words of the late President Ronald Reagan:
- “The most dangerous words in the English language are, ‘Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
America is vigilant about concessions to totalitarian governments but too many turn a blind eye to how our political, social, economic, intellectual, and spiritual narratives are dominated in our media by the extreme left of our cultural elite. For someone to make the decision for us by denying Mass to the faithful when they should be entrusted with caring for themselves is insulting, at best.
When that decision leaves faithful Catholics in spiritual deprivation, they are placed at even greater risk by traveling long distances to seek out Mass in a more reasonable Diocese. This point was made by some readers of a recent post of mine. One comment that stands out is this one by “Judith” posted on “Pandemic Lockdown: Before the Walls Close In.”
- “Here in the trenches, we recently received a communiqué from the Minister of Compliance in the Department of the State-Sanctioned Religious Observance informing us of the new rules regarding worship. If the Church / State requires masks, reception of Communion after Mass, and taking down our names and contact information in order to attend Mass, I will be assisting at the SSPX Mass an hour-and-forty-minutes away [which happens to be in Bishop Libasci’s diocese]. I know for a fact they don’t put up with this… God forbid you exercise your free will by choosing to risk your life to follow the precepts of the Church.”
Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal and one of the most honorable members of Congress, wrote a March 19, 2020 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Why Does Reopening Polarize Us?” He raises an interesting twist of political psychology. Liberal and conservative brain functioning shows differences in their mapping when risk-taking is considered.
But it is now the conservatives who “are the ones ready to confront risk head-on.” He says this is also consistent with his experience in the military, and may explain why the vast majority of Special Forces operatives identify as political and social conservatives. But he cautions that liberals lagging behind in re-opening society may have another agenda, treating the lockdowns and consequent economic devastation as an opportunity to restructure America into a socialist utopia.”
In the National Catholic Register, Thomas M. Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute, has a recent column entitled, “Coronavirus and Religious Freedom.” He cites that the line drawn between “essential and nonessential” businesses and services by government decree is highly suspect. He singled out Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, former pediatrician, and notorious proponent of late-term abortion, as declaring that religious services are not essential,” but abortion clinics and liquor stores are.
Thomas Farr also adds that for Catholics, access to the Sacrifice of the Mass is “essential to our happiness in this life and the next.” I can only repeat what Father James Altman so courageously declared in a recent, now viral, homily entitled, “Memo to the Bishops of the World”:
- “The faithful do not need you to look after their bodies. They need you to follow the Supreme Law of the Church and look after their souls.”
Effective June 6, 2020, Bishop Libasci modified his Decree to allow public Masses to resume in his diocese with strict conditions and limitations in addition to those recommended by the CDC.
Elsewhere, on the topic of faithful priests with courage, Father George David Byers had a memorable quote in a recent post, “Coronavirus ‘Creativity’ for Mass: ‘Just do it in the Parking Lot.’ No. And… Hell no!”
- “I’m not going to be a Parking Lot Priest just to look up-to-date. No! … Hell no!”
But I am giving the last word to Saint Paul’s Second letter to Timothy:
- “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort; be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itchy ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:1-5)
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- The Once and Future Catholic Church
- Wikileaks Found Catholics in the Basket of Deplorables
- In the Diocese of Manchester, Transparency and a Hit List
- Grand Jury, St. Paul’s School, and the Diocese of Manchester