Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests on COVID-19 Pandemic

Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests on COVID-19 Pandemic

Sat 23rd May 2020

In these strange coronavirus days those entrusted with the important and delicate task of seeking a balance between protecting life and a gradual and necessary opening up of the economy are to be commended for their careful, prudent and responsible approach.

In the first phase of this pandemic – as the sufferings, illnesses and deaths of thousands of Irish people attest – care, prudence and responsibility were established as the benchmarks against which the next phase of this national crisis can be measured.

An obvious danger is that groups, with real and reasonable fears around mental health, employment, business and social activities, may seek unreasonably to force their private agendas on the present careful process. In these circumstances, leaders in Irish society – not least the leaders of the Christian churches – ­will be expected to give a robust and responsible example.

Efforts at present effectively demanding that churches be kept open, that public Masses be reinstated and that ‘rights’ to pray in churches be upheld are being canvassed by individuals and groups with their own self-serving and self-interested agendas.

In the present context, gathering people together – especially elderly people who are most at risk – is grossly irresponsible and will lead to great pain, suffering and loss of life for many individuals and families, so churches or religious groups claiming entitlement to special treatment is inappropriate and unacceptable. As Christians, particularly in these difficult days, we need to be selfless rather than selfish,  and focussed on the needs of others, (especially the elderly and vulnerable) rather than on our own ‘rights’. At this point in the on-going coronavirus pandemic, moral responsibility trumps our individual rights.

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  1. Rev. James Mc Donald, C.Ss.R. says:

    I applaud your statement and you only have to look here to the US and the political statements coming from our leadership (or lack thereof!) In the North Eastern US where I live we have been hit very hard by the Covid 19 and I am grateful to our religious leaders who are following the guidelines of the CDC and their local jurisdictions and not our politicians. Yes, the people of God are missing their church life and the sacraments, but considering the overwhelming numbers of older folks and those with underlying medical conditions, it makes sense to proceed with as much caution as possible.

  2. Seosamh Ó Cochláin/Joe Coghlan says:

    There was no Church on the Great Blasket/An Blascaod Mór
    Agus ní bheidh a leithéidí arís ann

  3. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    It would be difficult to disagree with the statement, insofar as it goes. Of course we want “care, prudence and responsibility … as the benchmarks.” It is not right that groups “seek unreasonably to force their private agendas on the present careful process” for “their own self-serving and self-interested agendas.”

    There are, however, important dimensions which are not addressed. It is not wise if these decisions by health authorities and government should be immune from all questions. We are not passive subjects. They are not infallible. The default position is of respect for their decisions, but respect must include some possibility of raising questions. This is not unreasonable, nor self-serving.

    Medical decisions, we would expect, are made on a sound basis. I have benefitted from the services of medical practitioners in many ways. Medical professionals can get their facts wrong, or may not have the full facts, or they may be influenced by assumptions of which they are unaware. This is not to question their integrity, but to recognise our human condition. Two examples (among several) from my personal experience.

    My GP referred me to a consultant because I had a series of throat infections. The consultant did the examination. He spoke English with a very heavy accent, and several times I had to ask him to repeat his question. He sent his report to the GP. I asked the GP what the report said. He told me that, according to the report, there was no problem with my throat, but that I seemed to have a problem with my hearing.

    Another time my GP referred me to a neurologist because I had a headache which lasted several months. The neurologist did the examination, and told me it was a non-specific headache, that I would get better if I believed I would, and that I was wasting his time. Some weeks later an endocrinologist found that I had an imbalance in my blood; when this was treated the headache faded. The neurologist was mistaken in his assessment. As recently as this past week I had occasion to question a mistaken statement of a medical practitioner – perhaps his notes were erroneous, or he was confusing me with another patient.

    These occasions did not require any medical expertise on my part. I knew my own situation. Whether in individual cases or in medical decisions concerning the whole population, there must be the possibility to query decisions. NOT to have this is a lack of respect for the practice of medicine. It is all the more important in this pandemic. As Prof. Luke O’Neill of TCD said (Irish Times, 24 May), so much about Covid-19 is still ambiguous.

    Similar remarks apply to government decisions. In fact, they explicitly allowed for the possibility of amending their “Roadmap” for re-opening society: they emphasised that it is a living document. But implementing the “cocooning” of all those over 70, and allowing the impression to be given that this was mandatory until they admitted in a press briefing that it is strongly recommended but voluntary, was particularly bad.

    Working on what we judge are currently the best safety measures, it is possible for a particular group to devise a plan where these would be observed, and reach agreement with government that their activities may reopen earlier with whatever limitations are deemed necessary for public health. It seems this has been arrived at by the horse-racing industry.

    Whether or not members of government are religious worshippers, it is reasonable to ask whether, as a body, government may view religious worship as a hobby, when in fact over one million people in normal times gather each week in local areas for worship.

    The date in the government Roadplan for reopening places of worship is 20 July. It is not unreasonable or self-serving to ask why the same date is scheduled to “commence loosening restrictions on higher risk services involving direct physical contact for periods of time and for which there is a population-wide demand (e.g. hairdressers, barbers).” Those activities necessarily involve close and prolonged personal contact. With appropriate precautions, it is possible to recommence public worship without that kind of direct physical contact. It is reasonable to ask whether therefore the reopening of places of worship might be earlier.

    We do not know whether leaders of religious organisations have applied themselves to implement a detailed constructive approach such as has already taken place in several other countries. If something is being done, why is it not well publicised? Why have the people concerned not been invited to make their views and suggestions known?

    None of this is intended to imply that I think reopening of places of worship must take place earlier. In this pandemic, we have hardly begun to ask important questions about the place of liturgy in the lives of Christians. Celebration of the Eucharist by the whole gathered community is the summit and source of Christian life, but it is not an end in itself, just as food is not an end in itself.

    If we do not see the real presence of Jesus in all aspects of our daily lives and discover that this is true worship, we will not really know his real presence in the Eucharist, in the Word, and in the Living Body of Christ which is the community, and which gathers not so that I may just “receive” Communion (“Jesus and me”), but so that we together may be bread broken for the life of the world, to transform the lives of all – life in its fullness (John 10:10) – and to serve the coming of the kingdom which is already among us.

    There are two on-line surveys which are relevant to the church in Ireland in this time of pandemic, to assess how clergy and churchgoers, including young people, have responded to the experience, and what they think the future might hold:

  4. Patrick J O'Brien says:

    Thank you for such a forthright statement. Jesus said I came that you might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

    Now where is my copy of Laudato Si – five years on from publication.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    A Statement from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the website of Dublin diocese may be of interest. I don’t know if other dioceses have some similar news.
    It says:
    “The Irish Bishops pooled suggestions from each diocese and drew up a first Draft Framework document. The Standing Committee of the Conference examined this Framework today and has now moved towards producing a shorter and sharper document, with checklists to enable parishes to monitor where they are on the path forward. That should be available in the next days.”
    At long last we’re hearing something.

  6. Pascal O'Dea says:

    Padraig, I commend the ACI statement and I can also see the value in considering options as you sugges, I trust however the reasonableness of the Government committee’s deliberations. Covid 19 does not however follow reason.I am grateful for a nearby parish’s regular web cam mass and I appreciate the priests weekly reiteration of the need to follow the guidelines for everyone’s sake.

    1. Mattie Long says:

      For anyone who thinks the re-opening of churches etc should be speeded up I suggest they should read the following and other similar articles that are readily available. Decisions should be based on science, and we should never allow evidence based science be trumped by ‘instinct’ or our own personal preferences no matter how well intentioned we may think they are.

      The following is a quote from the above article;

      “So now let’s get to the crux of it. Where are the personal dangers from reopening?

      When you think of outbreak clusters, what are the big ones that come to mind? Most people would say cruise ships. But you would be wrong. Ship outbreaks, while concerning, don’t land in the top 50 outbreaks to date.

      Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such as meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.

      Some of the biggest super-spreading events are:
      • Meat packing: In meat processing plants, densely packed workers must communicate to one another amidst the deafening drum of industrial machinery and a cold-room virus-preserving environment. There are now outbreaks in 115 facilities across 23 states, 5000+ workers infected, with 20 dead. (ref)
      Weddings, funerals, birthdays: 10% of early spreading events
      • Business networking: Face-to-face business networking like the Biogen Conference in Boston in late February.

      As we move back to work, or go to a restaurant, let’s look at what can happen in those environments.
      Some really great shoe-leather epidemiology demonstrated clearly the effect of a single asymptomatic carrier in a restaurant environment. The infected person (A1) sat at a table and had dinner with 9 friends. Dinner took about 1 to 1.5 hours. During this meal, the asymptomatic carrier released low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing. Airflow (from the restaurant’s various airflow vents) was from right to left. Approximately 50% of the people at the infected person’s table became sick over the next 7 days. 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected. And even 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one at tables E or F became infected, they were out of the main airflow from the air conditioner on the right to the exhaust fan on the left of the room.

      Workplaces: Another great example is the outbreak in a call center (see below). A single infected employee came to work on the 11th floor of a building. That floor had 216 employees. Over the period of a week, 94 of those people became infected (43.5%: the blue chairs). 92 of those 94 people became sick (only 2 remained asymptomatic). Notice how one side of the office is primarily infected, while there are very few people infected on the other side. While exact number of people infected by respiratory droplets / respiratory exposure versus fomite transmission (door handles, shared water coolers, elevator buttons etc.) is unknown. It serves to highlight that being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection. Another 3 people on other floors of the building were infected, but the authors were not able to trace the infection to the primary cluster on the 11th floor. Interestingly, even though there were considerable interaction between workers on different floors of the building in elevators and the lobby, the outbreak was mostly limited to a single floor. This highlights the importance of exposure and time in the spreading of SARS-CoV2.

      Choir: The community choir in Washington State. Even though people were aware of the virus and took steps to minimize transfer; e.g. they avoided the usual handshakes and hugs hello, people also brought their own music to avoid sharing, and socially distanced themselves during practice. They even went to the lengths to tell choir members prior to practice that anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home. A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance. The choir sang for 2 1/2 hours, inside an enclosed rehearsal hall which was roughly the size of a volleyball court.
      Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place. Over a period of 4 days, 45 of the 60 choir members developed symptoms, 2 died. The youngest infected was 31, but they averaged 67 years old.

      Indoor sports: While this may be uniquely Canadian, a super spreading event occurred during a curling event in Canada. A curling event with 72 attendees became another hotspot for transmission. Curling brings contestants and teammates in close contact in a cool indoor environment, with heavy breathing for an extended period. This tournament resulted in 24 of the 72 people becoming infected.

      Birthday parties / funerals: Just to see how simple infection-chains can be, this is a real story from Chicago. The name is fake. Bob was infected but didn’t know. Bob shared a takeout meal, served from common serving dishes, with 2 family members. The dinner lasted 3 hours. The next day, Bob attended a funeral, hugging family members and others in attendance to express condolences. Within 4 days, both family members who shared the meal are sick. A third family member, who hugged Bob at the funeral became sick. But Bob wasn’t done. Bob attended a birthday party with 9 other people. They hugged and shared food at the 3 hour party. Seven of those people became ill.
      But Bob’s transmission chain wasn’t done. Three of the people Bob infected at the birthday went to church, where they sang, passed the tithing dish etc. Members of that church became sick. In all, Bob was directly responsible for infecting 16 people between the ages of 5 and 86. Three of those 16 died.
      The spread of the virus within the household and back out into the community through funerals, birthdays, and church gatherings is believed to be responsible for the broader transmission of COVID-19 in Chicago. (ref)
      Sobering right?

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