Cardinal Burke disputes suspension of public Masses to curb COVID-19
Churches are big enough for people to maintain social distance, former La Crosse bishop insists
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former bishop of the La Crosse Diocese, is challenging the suspension of public Masses to help thwart the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishops in most U.S. dioceses, including La Crosse and the four other dioceses in Wisconsin; Winona-Rochester and the five other Minnesota dioceses and Iowa dioceses, ordered the suspensions for several weeks in accord with medical advice and governmental and regulations to avoid large gatherings.
But Burke wrote in a March 21 reflection on his website that, just as people have discovered ways to provide food, medicine and other necessities “during a time of contagion, without irresponsibly risking the spread of the contagion, so, in a similar way, we can find a way to provide for the necessities of our spiritual life.”
“We can provide more opportunities for the Holy Mass and devotions at which a number of faithful can participate without violating necessary precautions against the spread of contagion,” wrote Burke, a native of Richland Center who led the La Crosse Diocese from 1995 to 2004.
The prelate occasionally returns to La Crosse and presides at Masses at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a project he conceived while bishop and guided to completion.
“Many of our churches and chapels are very large,” Burke wrote. “They permit a group of the faithful to gather for prayer and worship without violating the requirements of ‘social distance.’”
Now living in Italy, a country severely hit by COVID-19, Burke wrote, “I am edified by the great care which the Italians are taking to protect themselves and others from the contagion.”
As a U.S. citizen, he continued, “I have been following the situation of the spread of the coronavirus in my homeland and know that those living in the United States are becoming more and more concerned to stop its spread, lest a situation like that in Italy be repeated at home.”
Burke likened the suspension of public Masses to “a kind of forced spiritual retreat. I have heard from so many devout Catholics who are deeply saddened and discouraged not to be able to pray and worship in their churches and chapels.”
Although they understand the need to maintain social distance to thwart COVID-19, Burke wrote, “They have to accept the profound suffering of having their churches and chapels closed, and of not having access to Confession and the Most Holy Eucharist.”
Despite the general suspension of public Masses, most churches remain open for private, individual prayer. Services such as funerals and weddings can continue, with limited numbers of the faithful attending. Priests also celebrate private daily Masses, praying for their parishioners.
Burke suggested that suspending Masses lessens its importance, writing, “In our totally secularized culture, there is a tendency to view prayer, devotions and worship like any other activity, for example, going to the cinema or to a football game, which is not essential and therefore can be cancelled for the sake of taking every precaution to curb the spread of a deadly contagion. … We cannot simply accept the determinations of secular governments, which would treat the worship of God in the same manner as going to a restaurant or to an athletic contest.”
On the upside, Burke wrote, many people “have expressed to me the hope that it (the COVID-19 pandemic) will lead us – as individuals and families, and as a society – to reform our lives, to turn to God Who is surely near to us and Who is immeasurable and unceasing in His mercy and love towards us.”
Burke, who once held one of the highest offices in the Roman Catholic Church, is considered one of the leaders of the conservative wing of the Catholic Church. His public challenges to many of Pope Francis’ positions as too liberal prompted the pope to demote him to a lesser role.
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