In the COVID-19 Era, Why Don’t Priests Use Technology to Minister the Flock? April 2, 2020

In the COVID-19 Era, Why Don’t Priests Use Technology to Minister the Flock?

It’s somewhat understandable that the Catholic Church likes to live in the glorious past, but are its prelates really unaware of the existence of modern technology?

I ask because of Ioannes Andreæ‘s op-ed over at Church Militant. Andreæ is enraged by a March 27 directive from Mitchell T. Rozanski, the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. In it, Rozanski instructs priests to stop anointing the sick for now, as that’s currently too risky for everyone.

Writes Andreæ,

After a lifetime of giving donations to the collection basket, Catholics are increasingly outraged at finding themselves deprived of that minimum and essential pastoral care that they expected all their lives would be offered to them by their spiritual fathers — the one sacrament that a Catholic needs the most on his deathbed. …

[A] bishop who forbids his priests from administering extreme unction/anointing of the sick to dying Catholics who are not or have not been able to confess their sins due to physical or moral impossibility commits a most grievous sin, a terrible sin of injustice.

One of the cruelest things about the corona-crisis is that people are dying alone, in isolation, without the comfort of the touch or even the presence of loved ones. It’s interesting that Andreæ doesn’t dedicate a single syllable to that horror. Instead, he beats up Rozanski for suspending (during a viral crisis that could kill millions) the Catholic practice of sending a padre to slather some “holy” oil on an expiring patient’s forehead.

The temporary shelving of the ritual, that‘s the real tragedy here, folks. Not the deaths themselves, apparently. Not patients’ crushing fate of having to face the end solo, cut off from all friends and relatives. Andreæ truly believes that the Church’s functionally nugatory sacrament should trump all other considerations, including those of public health.

And he’s already getting worked up about what could be suspended next: confessions!

[A]ll bets are that the bishop’s next decision will be to ban, if not severely restrict, the individual confession of sins.

If Catholics feel the need to unburden their sins and cleanse their souls, couldn’t they use everyday technology, just for a while? You know: Skype, FaceTime, even the plain old telephone?

The same is true for anointing the sick and other last rites. Granted, you can’t rub magical oil on someone through the phone, but you can use phones or computers to speak whatever Jesus jive brings dying patients peace and comfort.

(Side note: When it comes to Catholic confession, I’ve never understood the need for the middle man. If God is omnipresent, and his knowledge limitless, surely He already knows which sins every individual committed, and whether that person is genuinely sorry.)

I recognize and respect that for dying Catholics, it’s tragic to be robbed of the ritual that they’ve always been told is a vital end-of-life matter. But these are tragic times for other people as well. And believing something doesn’t make it true. What is true is that a nasty virus is endangering our lives. To slow it, to stop it, rational and sometimes painful choices must be made. Rozanski deserves praise, not castigation, for making just such a decision.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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