General Appeal of the Lay Faithful to Bishop David Walkowiak regarding Covid-19 restrictions
The following petition was forwarded to Bishop Walkowiak on Wednesday, March 17th, 2021 with over 250 pen and paper signatures in support of this petition, from 30+ parishes around the diocese.
"According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which [the laity] possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Canon 212 §3)
In filial obedience to this canon, we are writing to you as our spiritual father in Christ to ask that you patiently hear the pleas of your flock regarding the mandates that have come from your office in response to covid-19.
We are aware that others have expressed to you their substantiated concerns regarding the discrepancy between the reality of covid-19 and the (mis)interpretation of that reality being given to us by our civil authorities and the secular media. We are also aware that others have expressed their concern regarding the rights of the faithful to the sacramental treasury of the church (canon #843) free from coercion and pressure to comply with novel liturgical mandates of dubious medical usefulness, and even more dubious canon law jurisdiction, such as social-distancing mandates, mask-mandates, (forthcoming vaccine-mandates?), and blanket cancellations of normal church activities.
We too share these concerns for the common good that others have already expressed, however we think that they spring from much deeper, spiritual concerns, having to do with issues more central to the truth and practice of the Catholic faith. It is these spiritual concerns that we wish to express to you, our spiritual father in Christ. We do this in the hope that by giving a voice to what seems to us a genuine exercise of the sensus fidelium you can at least understand those of us who, though loving you, supporting you, praying for you, and obeying you in all that is essential to faith, morals, and discipline, yet continue to exercise our Christian liberty in what is not essential to these and why we have not willingly complied with these mandates. We ask that, in teaching the truth in charity, these mandates cease and be rescinded because (1) they implicitly are communicating falsehoods regarding central aspects of the Catholic faith and (2) they are unnecessarily impeding the work of the Church.
From our perspective, a much greater weight needs to be given to the principle of subsidiarity, common sense, and the conscience of individuals and individual parishes with regard to decision-making in the current situation. There is ample room not only for acknowledging differences of circumstance, but also for admitting serious doubt regarding the wisdom of much that is being presented as if it were gospel truth about this virus and the best way for individuals and the church to deal with it. While adopting “a spirit of cooperation” with the civil authorities and the prevalent media interpretation of the coronavirus may have been understandable, at first, it seems increasingly clear that in continuing to do so we are cooperating with a spirit that is neither the Spirit of truth, nor the Spirit of charity, nor the Holy Spirit.
As St. John put it: Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world. (1John 4:1-3) Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)
Setting aside for the moment the misinterpretations (intentional or otherwise) regarding the coronavirus coming from the secular media, we are more concerned that there are falsehoods being communicated to the Christian faithful by those in authority in the church itself in the form of the continued “reminders” and mandates that we must, for example, wear face masks, keep churches half-empty, and cancel normal in-person church meetings.
When we consider these and other concrete experiences that the faithful are undergoing, we see great reason for concern, and also for change. Our reasons are based on what is being communicated and what sort of psychological and spiritual habits are being formed. In terms of experiences that have now become common, consider the following:
The Replacement of Holy Water with Hand Sanitizer
Once we have lived to see the holy water removed from the fonts in church, and hand sanitizer (often literally) placed on a pedestal in its place, what can the faithful conclude from this? First, that individuals lack the intelligence and decision-making ability regarding whether they should use holy water or not. Second, that holy water is efficacious in spreading disease, but hand sanitizer is efficacious in stopping disease. Holy water may serve as a traditional sign, but not actually an efficacious sign or anything that really helps us. In short, it seems what is being communicated is this: something medical “authorities” declare as a danger to the body (the social use of holy water) is of greater weight than individual decision-making and also of greater weight than what the church and tradition would tend to think of as a real deprivation to the body and soul (no longer having holy water).
From the blessing of holy water: Lord, holy Father, look kindly on your children, redeemed by your Son and born to a new life by water and the Holy Spirit. Grant that those sprinkled with this water may be renewed in body and spirit and may make a pure offering of their service to you. When faced with the contrast between our faith and our current experience, we are left to wonder: Does the spirit behind this new order of things indicate that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? We seem to have taken it for granted that holy water is harmful, and also to have taken it for granted that a single bottle of hand sanitizer still touched (just like holy water used to be) by everyone coming into church can somehow help save us. The potential good of the body from hand sanitizer takes precedence over the de fide good from the sacramentals declared by the Church to be for the good of body and soul. Intentionally or not, this communicates something incompatible with the Catholic faith.
Masks in Church
Masks, though they are often presented as a charitable work (protecting others from a disease that you might potentially-perhaps-maybe give to another person who has a .001 chance of dying from it) have another, more obvious and definite effect, that is, they cover your face, the primary locus of the image of God in the human person. Ritually donning a mask (and that is what it has become—a universal ritual, mindlessly enforced with no consideration for individual decision-making) to enter the house of God communicates without saying a word that only the perfectly physically immune and healthy can come together before God without this talisman. Moreover, since none of us are ever going to be perfectly free from potential health risks from being together in the same room with other people, we cannot come together before God, ever again, unless, of course, we take from the all-knowing medical experts the new sacramental of the face mask. If only we cover our faces then we shall be saved and can be “allowed” to be “together.”
Again, we have to wonder: is the spirit guiding mask mandates a spirit that confesses Jesus Christ come in the flesh, and present in Church? St. Paul relates, “Moses… put a veil over his face… but when anyone turns to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” And again, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:13-16). It is precisely coming together in worship, in Church, that we turn to the Lord, who is present. To be told that we must keep a mask on our face in order to do this communicates, without saying a word, something incompatible with the dignity of the individual human person made in the image and likeness of God and reborn in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, come in the flesh.
Masking the Priesthood of Christ
The priest acts in persona Christi. Jesus, the Word incarnate, came down from a pristine and disease-free Heaven to administer the sacrament of his humanity in a human mode to a sick world. The one who came to save us from our sins began his ministry by healing our bodily diseases. He touched others who had contagious diseases (far worse than covid), and allowed himself to be touched by those whom the dictatorship of sanitation of their own time considered “unclean”. He breathed on them, and power went out from him, for them to purify others. His was a confidently offensive, sacramental, and incarnational strategy, not a fearfully defensive, virtual, or masked one.
Many of the Church’s saints joyfully undertook to imitate Christ in His hands-on, offensive, “dangerous” approach to diseased persons in times of pandemic. These saints exemplify the Church’s authentic vision and response in times of sickness, following the true mandate of Jesus Christ come in the flesh: It is I, be not afraid (John 6:10). To require priests to administer sacraments to the faithful from behind a mask is intrinsically confusing by contrast.
Jesus said to His first priests, “Preach the good news to every creature . . .These are the signs that will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:15-18). Do we believe or not? Is the spirit which requires our priests to wear masks to administer the sacraments, a spirit that fulfills the Lord’s mandate to preach the gospel to every creature, that believes Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, or that confesses the face of Jesus to be the revelation of the loving face of God the Father (John 14:9)?
Social distancing in half-empty churches
Social distancing and keeping our churches at half capacity, just like masking, is presented as a precautionary measure that is not overly burdensome, and done out of charity for the vulnerable. But aside from the very real spiritual and psychological harm of keeping people away from one another and from the church, what does it communicate? It says that what we all really are is not “one in Christ,” but rather that our name is legion for, “we are many”—we are all potential threats to one another’s health and individuality. That is what we are, and so we must take these precautions. We are not Christ for one another, but rather we are disease factories for one another, and the only way to regain some shreds of togetherness is to stand six feet apart in every other pew and become faceless. Literally, our every breath is a threat to every other human being anywhere near us because the power of an invisible potential disease (with a veryhigh survival rate, nonetheless) is more important than the power of God. It is more important than something as common and normal and human as being really together in the same room on Sundays without artificial barriers that do precisely nothing to prevent all of us breathing one another’s air.
Conclusion? Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh. We are all unclean. And yet, St. Paul says: “We are all, individually, members of one another” (Rom 12:5). If, in the body, the eye cannot say to the hand, nor the head to the feet “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21), then all the more so should they not be saying to one another “Stay away from me,” “You are a danger to me,” or be led to think of themselves en masse in terms of “I am a danger to you.” We might expect this from the world, but not from the Church. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; to practice “social distancing,” aside from its having zero real efficacy in disease prevention, communicates a lie about the faith of the church. As our Lord had to teach St. Peter, “It is not for you to call unclean what God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).
Cancellation of Normal Church Activities
Finally, what does blanket cancellation of normal church activities communicate? A potential for catching a disease with a very high survival rate and an almost zero death rate for most age groups somehow outweighs the importance of in-person meetings for the propagation of the faith. We must do everything to ensure the safety of the body from all potential disease, even at the expense of spiritual goods.
Doubtless we tell ourselves that “virtual” meetings are good enough, but can we really pretend that disincarnated online meetings are an adequate replacement for in-person contact for the spread of the gospel? This seems contrary to the gospel itself, which preaches that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Plus, it is not even consistent with the reality of the world around us. Schools can be open and running functions, local fitness clubs are open, movie theatres, bowling alleys, stores, even restaurants, are open. The current mandate of keeping the Church shut down outside the Liturgy appears to have no good foundation. How can all of these things take place and yet we cannot meet to hand on the Faith with much smaller groups in larger spacious areas? The persistence of the shut-down is spiritually and emotionally harmful. Man was not made to be alone or to exist in a virtual reality which cannot support the true social and mental welfare of human persons made in God’s image.
Ultimately, all of this is misguiding the faithful, who are being formed to think that the Church is more concrete about submission than about subsidiarity, more convinced by the daily news than by the good news, more concerned with the body than with the soul, and more committed to temporal life than to eternal life. These are harmful things to be “teaching” whether you mean to or not. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and we cannot let the fear of disease, death, or litigation take precedence over the mandate to preach the gospel in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2). The church is the body of Christ in the world, not on the world-wide-web. So-called “facetime” is not a replacement for time spent face to face. As St. John put it, “Though I have much more to say to you, I would rather . . . talk with you face to face” (2 John 12). And again, I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face (3 John 14). St. John said this, of course, because of the example of his Master, who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
Fake Health, Fake Peace, and Fake Hope
In his own day, the prophet Jeremiah denounced the priests and people for their adherence to and complicity with a fake peace (Jer 6:14; 8:11) that did not treat the real spiritual wounds and needs of the people, but which deceived whole families into pretending that bodily health, safety, and prosperity were their real priorities and that these could all be gotten at the altar of a goddess of physical security, even though this course of action was, in fact, confusing and ultimately killing them as a people. The Lord says, to Jeremiah:
Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, their fathers light the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the ‘queen of heaven,’ while libations are poured out to strange gods in order to hurt me. Is it I whom they hurt, says the LORD; is it not rather themselves, to the confusion of their own faces? (Jer 7:17-19; cf. Jer 44:17-18). And yet the Bible shows us that the true Mother and true Queen of Heaven, not fearing death, does not confuse the true face of her sons, but rather, she confidently initiates her sons into the hour of their suffering, confirming them in the hope of the resurrection (2 Macc 7:27-29; John 2:4-5).
True Healing, True Peace, and True Hope
To bring this to a close, your Excellency, was it not our own mothers who vaccinated us all against the coronavirus panic a long time ago by reading us not only the Bible, but even the stories of Chicken Little and The Emperor’s New Clothes? The parallels are unavoidable here. The sky is not falling and, really, the Governess of our state, for all her false-motherly protestations and posturing, is not wearing a thing, and the more we pretend that we are being sophisticated and worldly-wise and “safe” by going along with her dictates and complying with the whole ridiculous and hubristic pretense, the more harm will be done to ourselves and the church and the more we will reveal how the wisdom of men is truly foolishness in the eyes of God (1 Cor 3:19). To continue to pretend that our civil leaders know best about this and that they are, some day, “when the pandemic is over” going to give us our rights back, or that they will never seek to take them ever again “after this is over,” is daily becoming more and more a case of complicit and naïve wishful thinking. The church needs to be evangelizing the post-Christian world, not being de-evangelized by it.
We long for clear-sighted and courageous direction not only from our Mother the church, but in particular, from you, dear Bishop, our spiritual father in Christ. The church preaches Christ crucified, an absurdity and a foolishness to the world, but to those who are being saved, Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor 1:24). Heaven has not fallen on our heads, though we are being pushed to believe that it is so; the emperors of the dictatorship of sanitation do not have any clothes on, though we are being pushed to believe in fear that they are clothed with wisdom from on high. Rather, what has come down from heaven is Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God Incarnate, truly clothed in our flesh, to save us.
Now is the time for the Church to turn, to recover, and to become again the place of refuge, healing, freedom, true hope and true peace. This is the peace that Jesus Christ came in the flesh to give when he said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). Dear Bishop, we are praying for you that you will turn and be strengthened, to confirm the faith of your brothers (Lk 22:32).
Please help us.
Your Children in Christ,