By Gregory N. Weiler

COVID19, St. Damien and the Hierarchy

May 8, 2020
Column: Life, Truth & Justice

So it’s been almost two months without the Sacraments.  In my parish, as ordered by our Bishop, there has been no Holy Mass, no anointing of the sick, no confession , no Eucharistic Adoration and little or no communication from the parish or the diocese except an email link to our parish bulletin and an invitation to a “pre-recorded” Sunday Mass.

I’m sure I speak for most in wanting to be obedient, smart, sacrifice for the general welfare, the “common good,” be a good citizen and “offer it up” like good Catholics. I’m sure there is much fretting by our bishop and local priests about what to do.

To that we can all agree.

My critical observations come after two months of watching how our Church is dealing with the COVID crisis.


Secular vs. Christian perspective

During this crisis, the world screams every day that death is the worst thing a human can experience.

Catholics, on the other hand, know there is a much worse thing than physical death and that the Church provides the means to avoid the real worst thing.

“Let’s keep our clergy , our laity and especially our vulnerable safe,” our spiritual leaders repeat.


On its face, it sounds prudent. The Church has much to say about prudence and safety, but more importantly about salvation.



Every great crisis flushes out the measure of leaders: weakness and greatness, the extraordinary versus the pedestrian, acts of courageous faith versus fearful hesitancy.

As they play out, crises sift ones priorities and our reaction to such crises attest to such priorities. We see it every day:  Stay safe in lockdown vs. the need for productive work.

My lament is not about the secular, but rather how our Church seems to have betrayed its God-ordained priorities.


An honest question

Honest question here: Which individuals will you personally acknowledge as having exhibited the heroic virtues of courage and faith over these past 8 weeks?

Beyond the daily streaming of Masses, Word On Fire, Relevant Radio and other loving outreaches which are the exceptions to my lament, where do we see bold acts of courageous faith in a power greater than a virus, a love greater than fear of death?


St. Damien

St Damien of Molokai comes to mind. Knowing he would likely be infected with a deadly disease, St. Damian nonetheless ministered to his people because the importance of the Sacraments was deemed elevated over his own personal security.

Aren’t doctors and health-care providers showing this exact same attribute of courage in caring for the physical needs of the afflicted?

By what standard do we propose that our spiritual needs are of any lesser priority or urgency than our physical? Easy answer- by the standard of the world.

Even absent St Damien’s heroic degree of courage (OK there aren’t many St Damien’s among us), where are the courageous cheerleaders encouraging people in the absence of the physical sacraments to “be not afraid”, finding ways to witness to the real presence of the Eucharist, to the ongoing need for the sacrament of confession, the need for Eucharistic Adoration, and exploring innovative ways to do so in the face of rigid regulations?

I note with admiration the drive-through confessions at Saint Kilian and the parking lot Adoration at Saint Edward the Confessor. Not perfect but evidence of a sincere desire to do what can be done.

In a different diocese 300 miles from where I live, at least one parish has found a simple way to strictly adhere to the imposed health regulations and yet offer multiple times for the sacrament of confession, and has left its church open to prayer for most of the day (with strict restrictions regarding face masks and distancing). 

The solutions were simple. Effective. And, ultimately, Life-giving in a way the world cannot give. 

Even amid severe restrictions, some pastors found a way to stay vibrantly true to their unique mission in and to the world — not perfect, but as good as possible. 


To consider

Might I suggest that if there is a true longing for communion with God, we the laity should urge our priests to expand imagination and even go to extravagant lengths to minister to God’s people AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

If there’s any motivation needed to push the envelope in finding a way to fulfill its unique and necessary mission on earth during imposed lockdown, is not the sacramental life of the Church and eternal destiny of souls not sufficient motivation?

Where is the urgency, longing, desperation and courage of the early Church evident today?

Where is the evidence to the world that we Catholics believe in the necessity of and efficacy of the Sacraments?


The GREATER risk

Unfortunately in my experience in Southern California, the local Church hierarchy has determined that it’s reasonable to indefinitely defer the Sacramental life of the Church as an accommodation to “prudence” and safety.

That same hierarchy will reap the whirlwind when normalcy returns and so many will agree that attendance at Mass and partaking of the Sacraments can be reasonably and prudentially balanced by external exigencies, agendas and personal assessments.

When weighed in the balance, the Church leadership has confirmed, and the laity meekly acquiesced, that the importance of attending Mass and partaking in the Sacraments must give way to ever-changing health guidelines .

The clear unmistakable implication is that supernatural sacramental grace is simply not necessary or can in any case can be long-deferred in the face of medical emergencies (where even the science behind forced lockdown for all at this point is contested by conflicting, top-level scientific evaluations).

Consequently, “love for the vulnerable who might be exposed” has become the priority of utmost importance.

One is deemed “selfish” to suggest a different application of priorities.  It’s not death to the vulnerable or the Sacraments, It’s protect the vulnerable and provide the indispensable life of the Church.  Very Catholic, not “either or,” but “and and both.”


The bottom line

I’m not saying forget safety. I’m not saying “God will protect us from infection” like self-proclaimed “Christian” snake handlers.  Rather, I’m saying that we should be smart, innovative, and demonstrate holy urgency in opening the churches and giving us our Sacraments.

Come Holy Spirit and inspire the leaders of our Church to act in boldness, reckless charity, imaginative methodology, courage, boldness and scientific prudence.  Open our Church to the living Christ – Today! 

I am hoping to hear of a story of a holy priest walking the hallways of a New York COVID-19 intensive care unit providing the Sacrament of the Sick like a corpsman facing live fire on Omaha Beach. THAT is evidence of a Faith worth dying for. THAT is a Faith worth living for.

St Damian Pray For Us!


Gregory N. Weiler, Esq. is a founding board member of the St. Thomas More Society in Orange County, CA, a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus, an active pro-life advocate, and of Counsel at Dzida, Carey & Steinman in Irvine, CA. He may be reached at

Gregory N. Weiler, Esq. is a founding board member of the St. Thomas More Society in Orange County, CA, a Fourth Degree member of the Knights... MORE »

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