My friend Dr. Gerard Nadal, a microbiologist in New York City, has some thoughts on how the church is handling the present crisis — and what can and cannot be done sacramentally.
From The Angelus:
What about the sacraments of anointing and the distribution of the viaticum?
It makes sense medically, that priests be able to suitably gown, glove, and mask and stand at the same bedside, just as my wife and other medical professionals do.
My wife [a nurse] puts her life — and our children’s and mine by extension — on the line each and every night. A priest’s contact with patients is far less extensive. Certainly our younger priests are in a better position from a health perspective to perform this vital ministry than their older brother priests. It certainly wouldn’t be advisable for all priests, but this ministry should be permissible for priests who wish to do so on a voluntary basis.
What America’s bishops cannot afford to do right now is retreat and leave the laity to fend for themselves. Televised Mass and spiritual communion are fine in a time like this, as there is simply no safe way to do Mass and Communion. They spare the congregation and clergy from massive transmission of contagion.
But telling the laity that confession in your bedroom suffices in time of crisis, and denying the anointing of the sick seems, to this faithful layman, to run the risk of institutional suicide. It is an act of abandonment, and not prudence.
So far, Catholic bishops in this country have shown themselves to be thoughtful and vigilant in their concern for the faithful. But this is also the time for fortitude, and when it comes to completely shutting the door to the possibility of sacramental confession and the anointing of the sick, as a seasoned professor of microbiology I respectfully invite them to reconsider.
This pandemic gives our bishops an opportunity to redeem a multitude of past failings by courageously and heroically putting it all on the line for the people at a time when the people need the Church the most.
The sight of bishops in the hospitals anointing the dying, hearing confessions, ministering to the medical personnel, putting their own lives on the line — this is an opportunity that they simply cannot let pass by.
This should be their finest hour. The alternative is unthinkable.
There’s much more food for thought. Read it all.