A coalition of Catholic leaders claims the shutdown of their churches during the coronavirus crisis and consequent denial of access to the sacraments is a religious freedom issue that must be addressed immediately.
An open letter to the U.S. Catholic bishops at a website titled, “We Are an Easter People,” that can be signed by any Catholic individual, is part of a campaign launched by moral theologian Dr. Janet Smith, the recently retired Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
The message to the bishops begins:
Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship. While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.
“The sacraments are the spiritual ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ of Catholics,” Smith said in a press statement:
They enable us to work in the field hospital of the sick and dying. During the COVID 19 pandemic, Catholics are being deprived of what is central to our faith — the sacraments. The sacraments are gifts of inestimable value: They open up for us the gates of Heaven and bestow upon us graces that enable us to be loving disciples of Christ our Savior.
The Catholic leaders say government orders are forcing churches to close, and they are citing their right to religious freedom as they urge bishops to listen to their suggestions of how to follow recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to maintain personal protection while administering the sacraments.
The message to the bishops continues:
Bishops and priests are using social media in inventive ways to bring the Mass into our homes, hearing confessions outdoors, blessing us from airplanes, and doing processions with the Blessed Sacrament.
Yet, as wonderful as these efforts are, we ardently desire to gather as worshiping communities and participate as fully as possible in the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, especially this Easter, when we — and indeed the whole world —need Jesus more than ever.
A list of the project endorsers can be viewed here.
The campaign is launched as Holy Week services, which culminate in the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, have been cancelled in many Catholic parishes across the United States.
Additionally, some Americans are questioning how their rights and freedoms will be affected in the long-term as governments at different levels control their daily lives through lockdowns and quarantines during the current coronavirus pandemic.
As Breitbart News reported, at the Christian Post, seminary professor Dr. Michael Brown accused New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of “overstepping his authority by threatening to permanently close synagogues and churches that fail to comply with his ban on public gatherings.”
“What on earth prompted you to say what you said?” Brown wrote. “Mr. Mayor, what gives you that authority?”
In Frisco, Texas, officials changed up their ban on religious gatherings they imposed due to the coronavirus crisis after being challenged with legal action by First Liberty Institute.
The city stated Wednesday it would modify its restrictions to allow religious services in keeping with the CDC’s guidelines and Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.
The governor’s order to continue social distancing includes an exemption for religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.
“We hope bishops are pressing governments and hospitals to rescind policies that deny priests access to seriously sick and dying patients,” said Smith. “This is a matter of religious liberty! We should be free to practice our religion.”