The Church Caves in the Age of COVID - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Church Caves in the Age of COVID

The Catholic Church has a long and distinguished history of opposing tyranny. But today’s hierarchy has shown little interest in upholding that tradition in the age of COVID. From the very beginning of COVID’s outbreak, the hierarchy signaled submission to the collectivists and central planners. The bishops immediately closed their churches and kept them closed for a long period of time, even as abortion clinics, tattoo parlors, liquor stores, and the like remained open.  

In defiance of the First Amendment, many states defined religious activity as “non-essential” and most of the bishops accepted that definition, as if the Catholic Mass is no more essential than a pop music concert. In some states, nail salons opened before Catholic churches did.

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It is hard to imagine the pre-Vatican II Church showing such craven deference to an increasingly godless state and its arbitrary definitions of what is and what is not essential. The traditional Catholic impulse during a crisis is not to eliminate public worship of God but to increase it. Religion is as essential to the soul as food is to the body. The churches should have been as open as supermarkets. But few bishops dared to make such points. Many of the bishops backed up governors as they turned into little dictators during the crisis.

As he rolled out his unconstitutional coronavirus executive orders, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy bragged about his support from the New Jersey bishops. Murphy infamously said to Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he couldn’t be bothered to think about the Bill of Rights — it was above his “pay grade” — but that he had consulted with religious leaders before issuing his edicts, as if to say to the rank-and-file religious: if your leaders don’t mind these decrees, why should you? “We have to find a different way to worship,” Murphy said.

The partnership of Pope Francis with the global Left grew even tighter after COVID emerged. Pope Francis eagerly seconded calls for a “Great Reset” in the name of COVID. 

“We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis,” Pope Francis wrote. “We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor.” Pope Francis was so excited about the prospect of an emboldened leftism in the wake of COVID that he tweeted out Joe Biden’s slogan: “build back better.” Never mind that Biden’s conception of building back better includes abortion, assaults on the traditional family, and the promotion of transgenderism.

The popes of the past would have recoiled from a project as dubious as the “Great Reset,” since it so obviously means reposing more and more trust in the moral judgments of overweening central planners who have an antipathy for Catholic teaching. Pope John Paul II warned about a “culture of death” and Pope Benedict XVI deplored the “dictatorship of relativism.” The “Great Reset” combines the worst of those two currents. 

In May, the Vatican, telegraphing its support for the “Great Reset,” held a conference on COVID-related issues and invited Dr. Anthony Fauci to speak at it. Fauci gushed about the pope as a useful propagandist for the tyranny then unfolding in the name of public health. The pope was doing his work for him, Fauci said, “You have someone who’s a deeply religious person who will listen to their clergy. That’s different than me with a suit going into an area telling people to do something.”

A number of pro-abortion liberals, including Chelsea Clinton, spoke at the conference. Under previous pontificates, that would have been considered a grave scandal. But Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who hosted the event, shrugged off such concerns and justified the conference on the absurd grounds that “More lenses are needed to bring into focus a complete picture of being and existence.” 

The interest of Fauci, Clinton, and company in any Catholic exposition of “being and existence” is nil. How can the Church take her cue on “health” from those who consider the killing of unborn children an essential part of “health care”? Future historians will find it baffling that the Church joined the “Great Reset” juggernaut at the very moment the ruling class was committing itself ever more deeply to a secularized and anti-Catholic culture.

As vaccine mandates proliferate, where is the Church’s defense of religious conscience? It is hard to find. The pope and many of the bishops are pressuring Catholics into bowing to those mandates. Indeed, Catholic institutions are applying those mandates with even more strictness than secular ones do. At the Vatican, there is a “no jab, no job” policy, reports Reuters. 

“I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine,” Pope Francis has said. But this goes against the guidance of his own Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, which has said that “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” 

Ironically, the bishops most doctrinaire about compulsory vaccination are the ones who normally favor the loose application of rules. They have finally found a matter on which they can be strict. They have forbidden their priests to grant conscientious exemptions. It is the more conservative bishops who have questioned this collectivist stampede against conscience rights. As the Colorado bishops noted, dissenting from many of their colleagues, “Throughout history, human rights violations and a loss of respect for each person’s God-given dignity often begin with government mandates that fail to respect the freedom of conscience.” 

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” Jesus Christ said. During the COVID crisis, alas, many in the Church have rendered unto Caesar what is not his due. To grant the government total control over a people’s health-care decisions is to grant it total control over that people’s moral and religious lives. The Church exists not to serve such overreaching government, but to provide a refuge from it.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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