Top Catholic leaders have issued a heartfelt appeal to government leaders, asking them to respect people’s rights and fundamental freedoms in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They question whether the danger from the virus has been overblown and demand that worshipers — now restricted by lockdown regulations — be able to congregate.
In a letter released Thursday to “Catholics and All People of Good Will,’’ the group charges that religious rights are being trampled, including the right to gather and worship, under the guise of health concerns.
“The facts have shown that, under the pretext of the COVID-19 epidemic, the inalienable rights of citizens have in many cases been violated and their fundamental freedoms, including the exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement, have been disproportionately and unjustifiably restricted,’’ the letter states.
“Public health must not, and cannot, become an alibi for infringing on the rights of millions of people around the world, let alone for depriving the civil authority of its duty to act wisely for the common good.
“This is particularly true as growing doubts emerge from several quarters about the actual contagiousness, danger and resistance of the virus. Many authoritative voices in the world of science and medicine confirm that the media’s alarmism about COVID-19 appears to be absolutely unjustified.’’
The prelates who signed include: Msgr. Carlo Maria Viganò, Archbishop, Apostolic Nuncio; Cdl. Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship; Cdl. Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Prefect emeritus of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith; Cdl. Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong; Msgr. Joseph Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, Texas; Msgr. Rene Henry Gracida, Bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi; and Msgr. Andreas Laun, Auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg.
Numerous doctors, lawyers, journalists and heads of associations also lent their signatures.
The plea comes as the Catholic Church and other religious groups have been hit hard by the pandemic, with parishes being shuttered and funerals and memorial services being banned.
In the letter, the group blames “powers interested in creating panic among the world’s population with the sole aim of permanently imposing unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms, of controlling people and of tracking their movements.
“The imposition of such illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control.’’
They also argue that in some cases, containment measures like the closing of shops and businesses have “precipitated a crisis that has brought down entire sectors of the economy.”
“This encourages interference by foreign powers and has serious social and political repercussions,’’ the letter writers say.
“Those with governmental responsibility must stop these forms of social engineering, by taking measures to protect their citizens whom they represent, and in whose interests they have a serious obligation to act.’’
In a nod to restrictions keeping families from visiting loved ones in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the group says they “unreasonably” penalize the “weak and elderly.’’
Likewise, “the criminalization of personal and social relationships’’ is unacceptable, they say.
The letter also talks about a cure.
But while encouraging the development of a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, the letter makes clear that “for Catholics it is morally unacceptable to develop or use vaccines derived from material from aborted fetuses.’’
The signers are also leery of using technological means of keeping tabs on people. “We also ask government leaders to ensure that forms of control over people, whether through tracking systems or any other form of location-finding, are rigorously avoided,’’ they write.
Finally, the letter says, the fight against COVID-19, “however serious, must not be the pretext for supporting the hidden intentions of supranational bodies that have very strong commercial and political interests in this plan.’’
The letter was released as dioceses in the U.S. and around the world are announcing plans to resume normal church services and parish functions.
In Oklahoma, Bishop David Konderla and Archbishop Paul Coakley told parishioners that public Mass will restart the week of May 18.
The church will “proceed with caution,’’ they added. “We are dealing with an invisible threat to people’s lives, a virus that our brightest doctors and scientists are still figuring out.’’
The number of parishioners at each Mass will be limited and guidelines for the distribution of Communion will be enforced.
In South Carolina, the Diocese of Charleston announced services will resume on Monday. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said: “As society moves forward with the reopening of public spaces, we must ensure that the Diocese of Charleston does all that it can to provide for your spiritual needs and to welcome you home. Our primary goal is to approach the lifted restrictions with great care, keeping the safety of all our parishioners and our clergy at the forefront of our decision-making.”
The Archdiocese of Denver told parishioners while limited services will begin again on Saturday, “those who make an effort to attend limited public Mass should not expect to do so with regularity and should be willing to attend on any day of the week. Important to note too: it is still recommended that those 65 and older and those with certain underlying medical conditions, shelter at home. This means some of our priests who fall into these at-risk categories and do not yet feel comfortable celebrating public Masses may refrain from doing so.’’
The church and parishioners have been increasingly vocal about the effects of the pandemic.
Last month, a British woman produced a two-minute video appealing to Catholic bishops in England, Scotland and Wales to re-open churches. The video — titled “Please Open Our Churches’’ was popular on YouTube. It said worshipers are ready to receive the Blessed Sacrament in person and be “physical be with Jesus.”
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