Governments around the world have begun to restrict access to any place where people gather in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, requiring the closure of any business not providing an essential service. These services are the very basics of what’s needed to keep society functioning, such as health care providers, first responders, grocers, agriculture workers, public utilities, and sanitation workers.
Cardinal Raymond Burke wants to add priests and bishops to the list.
In an open letter posted on his personal website, Burke responds to the crisis, discoursing briefly on the importance of avoiding the spread of coronavirus. He echoes some of the common recommendations for the situation, like frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and disinfecting surfaces.
So far, not bad. You could argue that the thoughts and prayers he requests for Italy aren’t especially useful, but they play well with his audience and do no harm.
Perhaps you can feel the big “but” coming.
It is a fundamental act of charity to use every prudent means to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus. The natural means of preventing the spread of the virus must, however, respect what we need to live, for example, access to food, water, and medicine… In considering what is needed to live, we must not forget that our first consideration is our relationship with God.
It’s amazing that this and other atheist websites continue to get web traffic in a world where living without God is as lethal as trying to live without food or water.
But Burke isn’t exaggerating for literary effect here; he really thinks churches should be kept open to the public just like pharmacies or supermarkets.
We turn to Christ to deliver us from pestilence and from all harm, and He never fails to respond with pure and selfless love. That is why it is essential for us, at all times and above all in times of crisis, to have access to our churches and chapels, to the Sacraments, and to public devotions and prayers.
History is littered with the corpses of plague victims who turned to Christ for deliverance. If He truly never fails to respond, He sure gave them one hell of a rude answer.
But Burke isn’t one to let the facts get in the way of a good tirade.
As an American living in Italy (which has been hit hard enough by the pandemic that he really ought to know better), he knows his audience loves that persecution narrative. This one sets up church attendance as exactly like denying Christians medicine or potable water, allowing the devout to feel like martyrs without all the messy business of actually suffering.
In the past, Burke has made news stateside for saying the quiet part loud — like in 2014, when he got a slap on the wrist and a minor demotion for advising families not to expose their children to relatives in “profoundly disordered and harmful” gay relationships.
His take on the LGBTQ community hasn’t changed much in the intervening years, clearly; he links the decision to treat churches as non-essential services to reflect on “how distant our popular culture is from God.” And guess who he holds responsible for that social shift!
We are daily witnesses to the spread of violence in a culture which fails to respect human life. Likewise, we need only to think of the pervasive attack upon the integrity of human sexuality, of our identity as man or woman, with the pretense of defining for ourselves, often employing violent means, a sexual identity other than that given to us by God. With ever greater concern, we witness the devastating effect on individuals and families of the so-called “gender theory.”
Readers familiar with Burke’s history of denying communion to pro-choice politicians will no doubt notice the reference to human life in that first sentence there and correctly conclude that Burke doesn’t lay all the blame at the feet of LGBTQ people.
We need only think of the commonplace violent attacks on human life, male and female, which God has made in His own image and likeness… attacks on the innocent and defenseless unborn, and on those who have the first title to our care, those who are heavily burdened with serious illness, advanced years, or special needs.
You mean like the people we’re trying to protect with aggressive measures to stop the spread of COVID-19?
Pope Francis is advising Catholics to actually protect those people by following proper quarantine procedures. He invites Catholics to pray at designated times while socially isolating, and offers general absolution of people’s sins.
Burke, however, is goading the faithful to see their governments as enemies out to curtail their religious freedoms and their access to a deity who can protect and cure them.
We cannot simply accept the determinations of secular governments, which would treat the worship of God in the same manner as going to a restaurant or to an athletic contest. Otherwise, the people who already suffer so much from the results of the pestilence are deprived of those objective encounters with God Who is in our midst to restore health and peace.
No word from Italy on exactly how Burke is defining “objective” here, but it doesn’t seem to match the usual definition.
Through all his efforts to elevate the church and blame the secular state, Cardinal Burke has unwittingly presented a thoroughly unappealing portrait of the Christian deity. By insisting his people have to visit a church to commune with God, he raises the question: Can God not connect with someone outside of a church? Or does He merely refuse?
The former option paints a picture of a strangely powerless being; the latter, a petty and cruel one.
(Screenshot via YouTube)