As many Christians can attest, and as Carina Benton details here, priests across the country are kicking out parishioners for not complying with their mask mandates. Sometimes, as Father Milton Ryan did with pregnant mother Deidre Hairston after she received communion at Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in Dallas, Texas, they will even resort to having law enforcement escort them out of the building during Mass.
What’s more, many bishops fully support their priests taking such actions. In a Facebook post about the incident, Bishop Edward Burns of the Dallas Diocese stated, “Canon law grants pastors jurisdiction over their parishes, and while the bishop has not mandated masks for every parish, he has left these specific details to the pastors of the Diocese.”
Although these incidents incense mask skeptics, many Christians approve of priests taking such actions. After all, these men have a responsibility to keep parishioners safe from what is reported to be a serious health threat. True, this may lead to ugly scenes of arresting people in church, but one can imagine much uglier scenes of vulnerable parishioners coming down with the virus because their neighbors refused to mask.
Besides this, both Catholic teaching and Holy Scripture command laypeople to obey the clergy. St. Paul and St. Peter repeatedly advise Christians to submit to authority, and both of them model this as they faithfully comply with Roman law enforcement.
Specifically, Paul writes to the Romans that secular authorities are put there by God’s will and that “whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-7). Peter echoes this logic when he writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
This command is not only practical advice against political rebellion, but it also emphasizes the transcendent reward that awaits obedient Christians who stay above the fray.
It’s important to note, however, that Peter and Paul speak this way about secular authorities. Concerning religious authorities, this call for obedience is not nearly as clear. Indeed, the 2,000-year history of Christianity can be seen as a history of disagreement on this very question.
Even granting this, disobeying a mask mandate seems like an awfully small hill to die on. Therefore, even if Christians resent restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, some believe they should acknowledge that priests and bishops are ultimately justified.
Or are they? To better understand this problem, it’s necessary to have context. Properly framed, it becomes evident that clergy like this are not so much brave shepherds watching over their flock, but feckless bureaucrats watching their backs.
First, one must recognize how much damage has been done to church attendance this past year as a consequence of COVID-19 and the responses to it. As Eric Sammons explains in detail in “Crisis,” the vast majority of self-identified Catholics have left the church, never to come back. Even with parishes reopening, even with Christmas and Easter Mass, this hasn’t changed.
While most church leaders would say this couldn’t be helped, many disaffected Catholics would disagree. Speaking for myself, I know several formerly devout Catholics who have stopped going to Mass because of priests perpetuating COVID-19 hysteria and treating their congregations (masked or not) like lepers. Some now refuse to donate any money to the church as a form of protest.
Yet so far the bishops and priests seem unfazed by this state of affairs. This is probably because the federal government has sent billions of taxpayer dollars in COVID-19 funds to the Catholic Church. Indeed, this money seems to have “relieved” the clergy of the need to serve their parishes.
Second, the idea that continued lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing are justified has become even more debatable by now, especially with vaccinations being available. This is why certain states have reopened and dropped their restrictions, and why they are having some success managing the virus and keeping infections down.
This truth has led many Catholics to wonder why their priests continue insisting on masks if their main purpose is, increasingly, to spread “awareness” (and panic) about COVID-19. Even if priests mean it to be a symbol of solidarity and charity, for many, masks are a symbol of fear, loss of freedom, and division. It’s for this reason a place that mandates masks will never feel like home, and a priest who chastises someone without a mask will never feel like a spiritual father.
Given that so many clergymen don’t appear to care that their restrictive mandates play a large part in this crisis, it doesn’t help to remind reluctant Catholics to “pay, pray, and obey.” Nor is it helpful to recommend writing bishops about their concerns, as many already have. The painful fact is that many bishops simply don’t care — nor do their priests.
Unfortunately, this has been the case for decades now as church leaders have abandoned tradition and Christian values for the tenets of leftism. All the virus did was make this turn of events more visible. Most bishops now less resemble the apostles and more the Pharisees and Sadducees, trading their moral and spiritual authority for worldly prestige and material wealth.
As such, it falls upon the faithful to respond the way Jesus and His apostles did: with courageous love, not cowardly submission. They confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees and called out their hypocrisy. They violated their arbitrary rules against healing on the Sabbath, regulating their diet, or talking to disreputable women. They railed against their virtue signaling and sanctimony.
They did these things because they understood the harm of spiritual leaders abusing their authority. A thousand best-selling atheists don’t hold a candle to the work of one priest who publicly shames and rejects his own parishioners. Nor can the most godless dictator compete with mealymouthed bishops who accept checks from a government that endorses killing the unborn. In their hypocrisy and pettiness, the Pharisees and Sadducees killed far more souls than any secular authority could, and their modern-day iterations are no different.
It should be stressed that resisting church authorities must be done in love, not bitterness or hate. The goal is to reconcile, which can only come if the demons are cast away in favor of the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls upon Christians to be brothers and sisters, which is why He stresses forgiveness. The love must be there. The anger and frustration Christians feel should only exist because they love their spiritual family and they see it breaking apart before their eyes.
Above all, everyone both inside and outside the church should understand that this is about more than just masks. Rather, it’s about what the church is and who takes ownership of it.
If the church is just another nonprofit organization with a globalist agenda, then the priests and bishops who manage it are its owners. If the church is a true body of believers, then there are no managers or owners. Everyone is a member with a role, and obedience means fulfilling that role for unity, not following rules for conformity.
As Christ said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Right now, that division is embodied in the thin strip of cloth we put on our faces. If Christians want to stand again, we need to finally take the masks off and reject what they have come to mean. At some point, hopefully soon, Christian leaders will take notice and take charge before their churches are empty.