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August 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The left-leaning Washington Post published an article this past weekend that seemed to relish the fact that Monsignor Charles Pope, a popular priest in the nation’s capital, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
“The pastor of a Catholic church on Capitol Hill who urged people not to ‘cower in fear’ of the novel coronavirus has contracted covid-19, the disease the virus causes, prompting D.C. health officials to tell about 250 staff and parishioners to self-quarantine for two weeks,” it began.
The piece, authored by Rebecca Tan, went on to quote at length left-wing Catholic writer Dawn Eden Goldstein, who for weeks has been attacking Pope on Twitter. Tan reached out to Eden via Twitter.
Following the announcement of Msgr. Pope’s diagnosis, Goldstein went on a Twitter rampage condemning the priest for allegedly refusing to wear a mask outside and suggesting that had he been more careful, he wouldn’t have gotten sick.
The contempt for Msgr. Pope on display by the Washington Post and Goldstein is reminiscent of the media’s April 2020 mockery of a Virginia pastor who died from the coronavirus after “def[ying] social distancing.” Their scornful attitude also brings to mind recent media treatment of former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, a cancer survivor who had the coronavirus and died.
The Post’s steely, unempathetic ire seems to have been brought upon Msgr. Pope because of his writing and speaking out against “the serious and potentially deadly effects of this unprecedented shutdown.”
On May 6, he wrote the following at the National Catholic Register:
I am neither an epidemiologist nor an immunologist, and I accept that some degree of protective measures is necessary to protect the vulnerable and to minimize the spread of the disease.
However, I am also concerned about the serious and potentially deadly effects of this unprecedented shutdown. I do not support every action or position of the demonstrators, but I am sympathetic to their essential concern that the “cure should not be worse than the disease.” The lives of those afflicted by or particularly susceptible to the new coronavirus matter, but so do the lives of others who are experiencing mounting losses and struggling to provide for their families.
Many with this concern are demonized and told that they are selfish and don’t care if other people die. This is, of course, an unfair accusation. Those who are calling for a gradual reopening want people to live, too. Living consists of more than having a pulse. Living involves thriving, interacting with others, cultural enrichment. Living involves the dignity of work, contributing our labors and sharing in their fruits. For a Catholic, living means the Holy Mass, receiving the sacraments and gathering for communal worship.
The response to the pandemic has indeed shown that the “cure is worse than the disease.” In addition to causing millions of people to lose their jobs and shutter their businesses, the restrictive measures taken by lawmakers have led to a huge uptick in suicides, supposedly virus-positive people being fitted with ankle monitors, and governments telling people they may not sing in church or even while live-streaming services in an empty church. Moreover, many have died alone in hospitals without the comfort of family by their side. There are even global food shortages causing tens of thousands of children to die from starvation. Some citizens are being told they must cover their faces in their own homes.
Weddings and funerals in many places have also been banned or severely restricted, although elites have ignored their own rules. For instance, many U.S. lawmakers packed a Georgia church for the funeral of Rep. John Lewis, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser then exempted them from the district’s requirement that anyone coming from Georgia quarantine for two weeks.
Millions of people in the U.S. and around the globe generally agree with the sentiments Msgr. Pope has expressed in his writings – that there is more to life than avoiding disease, that it’s unreasonable to indefinitely lock people in their homes, but that at the same time reasonable health precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
In an August 1 video, Msgr. Pope revealed that he’d cried upon receiving the positive COVID-19 diagnosis – not out of fear of the virus, but because what he knew it would mean for his parishioners.
He went to an urgent care facility that tested him for the virus, and then “it came back positive.” Afterwards they sent him to Georgetown hospital because his oxygen levels and fever were not where they needed to be.
“I spent all night in the emergency room…I got discharged at 3 a.m.,” he said. “When I was told that the test came back positive, I really wept. I don’t think that the nurse practitioner understood” why I was crying, he said. She asked if he was “that afraid of COVID.”
“I said not COVID,” he recalled. “But how many lives this is going to affect…when you’re a priest, you literally and figuratively touch hundreds of lives and I can see all the dominos falling…I could see huge numbers” of people being asked to quarantine.
The Post predictably chose not to include that sentiment of Pope, instead just reporting, “He apologized for the ‘inconvenience’ he had caused parishioners who were asked to quarantine.”
In its hit piece on Msgr. Pope, the Post also revealed its deep ignorance of religion by describing Holy Communion – which the Catholic Church teaches is the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ – as “the Catholic ritual of sharing wafers and wine.”
‘Lukewarm’ Catholic comments completely misrepresented
In an interview Sunday night, Msgr. Pope told LifeSiteNews that his physical symptoms are similar to a “bad case of the flu” and emphasized that the Post article misrepresented comments he’d made on the radio about “lukewarm Catholics.”
“The thing that most pained me in the article was that someone accused me of saying anyone who doesn’t come back to Mass now is a lukewarm Catholic. I have not said [that],” he said. “I never meant that. It was quoted out of context in a much longer conversation on a radio show where I distinguished between Catholics who should not come back to Mass – older folks and those with medical conditions and then some younger folks who may be taking care of people with medical conditions – I fully understand that – and people need to make their own prudential decisions.”
Msgr. Pope said he had been talking about people who were lukewarm in their faith before the coronavirus outbreak started, and are not likely to be rushing back to the pews. He was not saying anyone who doesn’t go to church during the pandemic is lukewarm, as the Post and Goldstein suggested he was. His comments can be listened to in their entirety here. He made “a lot of distinctions” in his comments on the radio, he said.
“I am concerned that there are some people out there who we may have lost forever or a long, long time,” he continued. “Even after this crisis is over, we’re going to have to work very hard to bring them back to the Church. There are also others who have felt abandoned and hurt by the Church, and we’re going to have to work very hard to bring them back.”
“There are lukewarm Catholics. They do exist. I’m concerned that at some level, the Church wasn’t particularly relevant to begin with and after four or five months off they’re not exactly gonna be rushing back.”
He continued, “I think the question is to find balance. I think that there are legitimate times that we can and should wear masks for now and socially distance and we should follow protocols for Communion. And – I continue to ask this question, ‘what’s the endgame? When will this [gripping] fear let up?’ Because we’ll never have a completely risk-free world. So the question is: how do we balance fears on both sides and move forward to the life we once knew in this country?”
Goldstein chided Msgr. Pope for drinking water without a mask while protesting racism
Yet the Post was not done misrepresenting facts and conflating the truth about Msgr. Pope.
In its report, Goldstein was quoted as saying she felt “insulted” by his remarks on the virus.
“He has used his platform to mock and ridicule Catholics who are taking precautions,” she claimed. “It’s so un-pastoral, so unlike a priest.”
The Post continued:
Goldstein said she encountered Pope on June 6, a day of mass racial justice protests in Washington, while he was leading a rosary procession with about 30 priests, nuns and congregants, most of whom were not wearing facial coverings.
Goldstein, who was distributing water and masks with other members of St. Joseph’s, said she offered Pope a mask but he declined — a decision she felt was irresponsible.
It was not mandatory at the time to wear facial coverings outdoors, though city officials had urged residents who were attending protests to do so.
Msgr. Pope provided LifeSite with more context for that interaction.
“We were praying for an end to racial injustice in all its forms,” the priest, whose parish is predominantly African American, explained. This was in the wake of the national outcry over the killing of George Floyd. “We walked over a mile on a hot day. And we came all the way up to the Capitol. And there was a little watering hole that St. Joseph’s parish had nicely set up. And so we stopped and got some water.”
“It was a large area. We all spread out.”
“I downed a couple bottles of water because we were all very dehydrated,” he said. “And Dawn [Goldstein] comes along at some point and says, ‘you gotta wear a mask.’ [I said], ‘I’m drinking water, and I have a mask in my pocket.’”
“I always carry [a] mask in my pocket, in case I need to go into a store [or] help somebody close up,” he added. “The only people I was close to were people I already live with. I think that her request was excessive and I declined. I said, ‘I have a mask, but I’m trying to drink water. How am I going to do that when I’m wearing a mask?’ And then she left with a huff and next thing I know I’m being excoriated on the Internet.”
In August 2019, Center for Family and Human Rights president Austin Ruse wrote at Crisis magazine an article essentially arguing that Goldstein has gone off the rails.
“In recent months Dawn [Goldstein] has fashioned herself as the scourge of what she sees as right-wing anti-Francis heresy,” the pro-life leader wrote. “Her specialty is making wild charges against these ‘heretics’ and then often having to walk them back and apologize.”
“I first experienced Dawn’s animus during the Viganò-McCarrick controversy. Dawn was incensed at Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s claims of deep episcopal corruption and spent weeks on Twitter going after him,” wrote Ruse, a former friend of Goldstein. “I felt it strange that she seemed far less interested in getting the Vatican to release their files on McCarrick. When I told her so, she blocked me on Twitter.”
Goldstein was “a charming, eccentric, if slightly whacky (in a good way), incredibly fun woman,” Ruse wrote. “But, somewhere along the line, she has become an uncharitable scold who sees herself as a one-woman wrecking crew against those she sees as the enemies of Francis, many of whom are her former friends in the Catholic trenches. She’s on the trajectory of Mark Shea-ing herself—of getting so lost in the battles that she loses both her reputation and her (forgive the expression) brand, both of which have been quite good.”
Msgr. Pope is an extraordinary, loving priest
One other possible reason Msgr. Pope is being so unfairly attacked is that he isn’t falling over himself apologizing for his past comments about the coronavirus, which are actually helping encourage people to not be paralyzed by fear.
“COVID’s not a terminal illness for most people,” he said during his interview with LifeSite last night. “It’s kind of a bad case of the flu…I’m recovering and I expect to recover unless something unfolds that I’m not expecting. And I think most people do recover. And then very sadly, some have died.”
This is why people should “act prudently,” he said, “but not just [cower] in fear. My concern is the excessive fear, and that’s far worse than the disease itself. Anything is possible if you go out your front door.”
This reporter has known Msgr. Pope for five or six years now. Like me, he’s an animal lover. When my dog died in 2016, Msgr. Pope called me to see how I was holding up. Although I’m not his parishioner, he officiated my wedding. He’s comforted me when I’ve been brokenhearted and helped me navigate crises of all kinds. More than once I’ve called him crying late at night, and he’s been there for me.
And something that has always struck me about Msgr. Pope is his reaction to the homeless asking him for money. This has happened multiple times when I’ve been with him, usually after pro-life activities in the city. Every single time I’ve seen him interact with a person begging, he’s opened up his wallet and given away all the cash inside – and then asked the homeless person to pray for him. (Sadly, city dwellers often ignore the homeless; that is why I noticed this.)
Msgr. Pope has always been very gentle and paternal toward me, exactly as a priest should be. I’m grateful to him for caring about the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of all the faithful with whom he comes in contact. He is everything a priest should be, and the malicious Washington Post piece is everything “journalism” should not be.
LifeSite’s Stephen Kokx contributed to this article.