Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Dear Bishops: “Hurry up, please; it’s time”

October 4th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

I confess there is much of T.S. Eliot’s 433-line poem “The Wasteland” which I don’t understand. For the parts I do understand a bit, it is easy to be somewhat repulsed, or at least lose interest in revisiting the opus. But there is one line which is a signal theme of “The Wasteland” which locks into the mind – the line: “Hurry up, please; it’s time.” Spoken by the pub bartender, it is a call to order a final drink, a reminder that time is rapidly running out, so do it now! The line is repeated several times, just as an innkeeper might do, so none of the patrons can argue that the “endtime” wasn’t properly announced. Both sad and surprising is the casual way (in 1922) in which words about ‘abortion by pill’ are strung between those repetitions from line 152 to 165.

Executive Summary in 100 words

The Catholic Church’s wholesale caving to civil pandemic regulations, diocese by diocese, endangered the religious liberty of the Church and her members. When the candles were blown out across America, during a mere week in March 2020, the laity were left without Mass or Communion. The Church should take protective action against having established precedent for COVID-20 by acquiescence to government interference — from attendance to facemasks, from liturgy to sacramental practice. Such appeal would reset the parameters by which the Church asserts her rights, refusing to begin at the set point of COVID-19 precedent. Hurry up, please; it’s time!

Short Straws

When I first thought of writing about the strategic action now needed to be taken by the Bishops of the Catholic Church, The Wasteland repetition leapt to mind and has been there ever since. It is not just about hurrying up; it is about time being ‘up’ too. As the pandemic now seems to wind down, as more functions and services are restored, we can see that the churches in particular, from the beginning, were getting the short straw, and still are. Liquor stores and abortuaries, deemed ‘necessary,’ got a ‘free pass’ to stay open, while churches had severely restricted access to their members, and members to their churches, thus deemed de facto “unnecessary” even where Catholics were dying in hospitals without the presence of their priests. And, among the churches, it was the Catholic Churches which got the shortest of straws, especially on hot button items interfering with the liturgy, beginning with cancellation for 2-3 months of all Masses for the laity and, when laity could return in very small numbers, there were regulations even against not singing though masked, and against receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, a practice deeply embedded over centuries of worship and, in some cases, even having their reception of Holy Communion in the hand perverted by using tweezers, a disgusting abomination of the sacred.

Complacency or Complicity? Collusion or Coincidence?

The powers and privileges of individual Bishops are highly protected under Canon Law. They have an abundance of power to resist the pressure of other bishops or of civil authorities’ meddling power plays. To get every bishop to agree on any matter is most difficult, even suspicious. But just the perception that they agree on something facilitates wider acceptance of what may not be acceptable at all.  Here are three items from the Code of Canon Law which Bishops should be able to rely on:

  • 381 §1 states: “In the diocese entrusted to his care, the diocesan Bishop has all the ordinary, proper and immediate power required for the exercise of his pastoral office, except in those matters which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme authority or to some other ecclesiastical authority.”
  • 455 §1 states: “The Bishops’ Conference [e.g. USCCB] can make general decrees only in cases where the universal law has so prescribed, or by special mandate of the Apostolic See, either on its own initiative or at the request of the Conference itself.”
  • 455 §4 states: “In cases where neither the universal law nor a special mandate of the Apostolic See gives the Bishops’ Conference the power mentioned in [455] §1, the competence of each diocesan Bishop remains intact. In such cases, neither the Conference nor its president can act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his consent.”

Over most of a week in mid-March 2020, one-by-one dioceses across the U.S. caved in to pressure to stop offering all public Masses and Holy Communion. Later, left wing talking heads would marvel at the ease with which they were able to get to the heart of the Church and shut us down from that which we most need.  If it was a dress rehearsal for future socialist onslaught, and it seems to be, the Church hierarchy flunked the test, and therefore actually encouraged further actions against the Body of Christ. The bishops with all their power simply caved to the civil authorities and there seems to have been virtually no dissension. The pictorial story from last March is shown here:                                       

Perhaps the talking heads credit their own work too much. It seems as if the pressure on dioceses came at least in part from other dioceses. If it had been a genuine debate, there might be signs of compromise, or at least a few of the later holdout dioceses might have stayed open, or closed much more slowly, especially some in Florida, Texas, Maine, Alaska and Minnesota. It was ironic that by St. Joseph’s Day, the entire map had gone dark, the bishops trusting in their own obedience to civil authority more than to the Patron Saint of the Catholic Church.  Their trust was tested and it failed themselves and their flocks. Isn’t it even more ironic that bishops who usually don’t agree on much would come to such total Complacency? Collusion? Complicity? In just a few days? It certainly isn’t about Coincidence!

The Yoke of Power

Now there seems to be a tremendous temptation to sigh deeply “Whew! Glad that’s over!” But it isn’t over, and power hungry state and local governments will surely not let the Church off the hook that easily. Anyone who thinks that the first encounter didn’t set a baseline for what can be presumed and used in the “Return of COVID” doesn’t understand how power works.  NYS is an example, with Governor Andrew Cuomo. A media broadcast per day gave him the communications channels to encourage friends, threaten enemies, and set up for ridicule on his own schedule and timing any resistance. It surely makes voters, media, companies, government – well, everyone — afraid to resist or criticize or perhaps even to make any suggestions, like not putting COVID patients in nursing homes. Recently, Cuomo threatened to close down worship in the only two faiths which God Himself founded, the Jewish religion and the Catholic Church, for ‘violating’ Cuomo’s worship rules! Where is the data which he favors so much to prove any link to COVID spread in excess of any other activity? If he had it, wouldn’t he show it? Or is it a matter of happily caving to the God-haters?

So, if you watch carefully, Cuomo is being very slow to return power where it belongs. He just finds new targets. He releases one state from his self-proclaimed quarantine and then adds another, requires food on the bar menu and rejects part of the menu, demands that masks be kept on, even outdoors, by threatening arrest, and won’t release churches from a capacity guideline, to do what they think best for their flocks. What else can be added and regulated is the question of this phase, to create yet another reason to hold on tightly to power. A true leader rejoices when things return to normalcy, doesn’t manage by the decimal points, and hands back the reins to local leaders (subsidiarity) as soon as possible. In the current case it almost seems that some state and local governments are in fear of the people’s becoming refreshed by regaining the freedoms they ‘used to have.’

A Plan Forward?

Now, what would make us think the Catholic Church, diocese by diocese, would not again be the first and fastest to cave, when the next COVID hits, BEGINNING at the worst of the prior level of ‘power and control’ as “Precedent,” and then being pressured further by the state for more concessions from the Church? Nothing but naïveté or wishful thinking would deny that likely scenario. There are some legal actions which need to be done to recover, maintain and protect religious liberty in the U.S. We should begin as soon as possible. Hurry up, please, it’s time!

  1. Disown Precedent: The Catholic Church is theoretically best positioned to disown any Precedent having been formed during COVID-19, and government accordingly warned against any role it might try to take to interfere in a church’s worship and/or the religion of its flock. The split politics among the hierarchy make it difficult and impractical to work beyond the diocesan level.
  2. Place “on notice”: State and local governments should be placed “on notice” of all the incursions or potential incursions of religious liberty, and quantified where feasible to do so. Specific interferences and harassments should be referenced, even where the Church might have agreed temporarily under timing pressure.
  3. Clarify financial damages and areas of impact: Without a financial incentive to avoid causing conflict and persecution, government has no incentive not to repeat its indefensible treatment and harassment of churches during the COVID-19 lockdown. Such strategy is not to emphasize financial gain, although it is not unreasonable to be fairly compensated for injuries suffered. Financial disincentive is essential to prevent COVID-19 becoming a “Precedent” starting point for COVID-20 or -21.
  4. Require a consent decree to prevent certain actions by government in the future, and to recognize the Diocesan bishop’s right to set Mass times and attendance, liturgical elements, to allow convening for study, teaching and access for priests to hospitals and treatment centers, and so much more, all without permissions or licensing by civil government. It must not be a promise from government, but an absolute legal obligation not to trespass on religious rights. The Church especially should not allow herself to be beholden to governments involved with institutionalizing sin: abortion access, LGBT and transgender activism and the looming threat of euthanasia.

Timing is Short; but Climate is Encouraging

If cases against government are not brought by dioceses, “Precedent” is likely to be assumed and re-imposed (if it ever was intended to expire), with the argument: “Well, you put up with it last time and didn’t complain.” Without resistance, to destroy the precedence basis, there may also be statutes of limitations which can’t be overcome later on, and those readings are almost always favorable to the government. Legal action needs to begin in 2020. “Hurry up please, it’s time!”

Once a few cases are filed, others should be more easily assembled. There are also a few pieces of good news embedded below, which indicate encouraging timing which can lead to framing a successful strategy.

  • First, President Trump (may God grant him good health) has reinvigorated the values in our country to pro-life and a strong stand for the religious liberty promise of the First Amendment. He is not afraid to speak the name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, publicly. And he is a uniting force for Christians. If the Catholic Church doesn’t respect and use well this opportunity, she will have only herself to blame.
  • US Attorney General William Barr has said that COVID lockdowns are the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties since slavery,” and by those words has sent a very broad invitation to the Church, among others, to recognize what they have suffered during the pandemic in violation of our civil rights. There would seem to be little reason for the DOJ to interfere.
  • The target for lawsuits is not the Federal government, but state and local governments, and there is no lack of material over which to bring lawsuits, especially regarding discrimination, disparity of treatment and violation of First Amendment rights.
  • States’ dependence on “numbers” rules, like 10 people per Mass provides a database which otherwise might have been difficult to capture. Church attendance data is quantifiable, and lost collections as well as the long term contributions loss of those afraid to return to Mass, for every parish in a diocese, can be a significant and a reasonable argument for damages (or we might say ‘reparations’ –yes – we can use that word too!) The state changed the Church from being a haven for care of the people to our essentially being hostages of the government.
  • It is essential to take action diocese by diocese because it doesn’t take much to slow down or stop an entire initiative. It is the sheer volume of cases that can be brought and the diversity of those cases which will help dismiss Precedent, and let dioceses play to their strengths without depending on other dioceses with different motives.
  • Ancillary damage: Many actions taken by state and local governments created a climate which caused damage to churches, furnishings and statuary (and maybe increased their insurance rates as well.) While the BLM, Antifa and race riots are the proximate causes of many of these actions against churches, they were made worse by government’s entertaining defunding the police and not responding to civil disturbance. It was, at least in part, the weakness of the churches in the face of COVID restrictions which created a vulnerable, easy to attack image, with brittle self-defense.

Push-back against “Precedent” also will shine a spotlight, diocese by diocese, to recognize which bishops are acting on behalf of their flocks, and which are not. But the action needs to be timely.


Hurry up please, it’s time!



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