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Catholic leaders urge bishops to increase access to sacraments during pandemic

'Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,' they write.
Thu Apr 2, 2020 - 5:59 am EST
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Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, carries the Blessed Sacrament at a busy street corner on March 21, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. ST. PHILIP INSTITUTE / FACEBOOK

April 2, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A great number of prominent and well-respected Catholics has urged the bishops “to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The open letter, titled “We Are An Easter People,” was released on April 1.

“Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the open letter pointed out.

Spearheaded by Janet Smith, a former professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, “We Are An Easter People” has been endorsed by other notable Catholics. Names include pro-life activist Abby Johnson; Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire; Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; and LifeSiteNews columnist Peter Kwasniewski. (See the bottom of the article for the full list of project endorsers.) They are welcoming the public to join in signing the letter, which you can do at the website here.

LifeSiteNews has also launching an “urgent appeal to bishops” on the LifePetitions platform.

Sign LifeSite’s petition to the bishops here.

The open letter states: “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.”

Every single diocese in the United States has canceled public Masses, often also restricting access to other sacraments, including confession. In some cases, those limitations were not even mandated by the government, but only by the bishops.

The state of Ohio, for instance, considers churches as essential businesses that are allowed to stay open. “Religious facilities, entities and groups and religious gatherings, including weddings and funerals,” are listed by the state as “essential businesses and operations” which may stay open, LifeSiteNews reported.

The signers of the open letter want the bishops to take several steps to make the sacraments more accessible. Among other things, they asked the bishops to demand “that civil authorities recognize religious services as essential services” and “permit events such as offering and attending a Mass in a parking lot if they are currently prohibited.”

“We Are An Easter People” also encouraged bishops “to make possible some form of a public Mass, especially the Easter liturgy.” It should be offered not only by regular priests within their dioceses, but also by the bishops themselves, the open letter continued.

Whether within or outside of Mass, bishops are asked “to find a safe way of distributing the Eucharist, with due precautions.”

LifeSiteNews has reported on some efforts in that vein. Fr. John Lamansky, a priest of the diocese of Davenport currently studying in Rome, suggested people come to adoration in the church parking lot, praying “without leaving their vehicles.”

“Offer Communion through the car window,” he said, adding priests should be “thoroughly sanitizing your hands after each time.”

Steven Mosher, head of the Population Research Institute, wrote about the parish in Ave Maria, Florida, where the members of the parish participate in a live-streamed Mass “from a safe location, either in their homes or perhaps in their cars. The priest will then process outside and distribute Communion in the open air in a nearby school parking lot.”

On the website of “We Are An Easter People,” more options are listed.

“Priests could use some form of suitable, beautiful tongs or other instrument to give communion either on the tongue or in the hands. (Byzantine priests use a spoon.) The hands of the priest and communicant could be kept at some distance even though the tongs would be, say, only 6-8 inches in length,” one of the options explained.

“The tongs could be sterilized between each use. If receiving on the tongue, a paten could be used, even held by the communicant to ensure that the host not be dropped.”

“We Are An Easter People” urged the bishops to do “everything you can to enable parish churches and shrines to remain open for prayer and adoration, with due precautions.”

Many priests keep their churches open. In mid-March, Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, announced that parish churches in Rome would again be open to the public. Just hours before, he had issued a decree stating the opposite, ordering all churches to be locked until April 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Given the number of deaths associated with COVID-19, the sacrament of anointing of the sick, often called extreme unction, needs to be provided “to those at risk of dying,” the open letter pointed out.

“If a state or local government prohibits priests from ministering to the sick in the hospital or in their homes, make a personal and formal request of civic leaders to permit such minister with assurances that all due precautions will be taken. Urge them to recognize religious services as essential services.”

The open letter called the permission for priests to enter medical facilities and minister to the sick and dying “a matter of religious liberty.”

“Priests should be informed of the precautions they need to take to protect themselves and minimize the risk of transmitting the virus to others,” the letter continued. “In medical settings, they should follow the protocols required of other facility staff. The diocese should make every effort to secure required [personal protective equipment] for priests who attend the sick and dying.”

If a priest is not permitted to enter the medical facility, he could, if possible, meet the sick person “at the entrance of the hospital to anoint them.”

Lastly, “We Are An Easter People” reminded the bishops to inform their flocks “of your efforts and the greater availability of the sacraments.”

“We must use the means Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church have provided us to combat the evils of this world,” the open letter concluded. “The Bishops, our Spiritual Fathers, must take active and public roles in bringing to our wounded world, the sacramental graces needed to survive” the current pandemic.

To show their support for the contents of the open letter, people may sign it online. 

The LifeSiteNews petition can be signed here

Project Endorsers for “We Are An Easter People” Initiative:

  • Janet E. Smith, Moral Theologian
  • Kari Beckman, Founder and Executive Director, Regina Caeli Academy
  • Patrick Coffin, author, Founder, CoffinNation.com
  • Chris Faddis – President, Solidarity HealthShare, Author, It Is Well – Life in the Storm
  • Matt Fradd, Host of Pints with Aquinas
  • Theresa Farnan, Ph.D.
  • Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute
  • Dr. Ray Guarendi
  • Philip Grey, President of the St Joseph Foundation and Catholics United for the Faith
  • Bradley L Hahn, JD, –  CEO, Solidarity HealthShare
  • Abby Johnson, CEO, Prolove Ministries
  • Peter A. Kwasniewski, Ph.D., independent scholar
  • Philip F. Lawler, Editor, Catholic World News
  • Leila Miller, Author
  • Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President, The Ruth Institute
  • Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph. D., Theologian, Author and Pro-life Activist Leader
  • Steve Ray, Author, Movie producer, International speaker, pilgrimage guide
  • Dr. Paul Thigpen, Catholic author and catechist
  • Mark A. Thomas, Pro-Life Catholic & Adorer of the Real Presence
  • Matt Walsh, Columnist, Daily Wire
  • Kevin Wells, Catholic author, writer and evangelists

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