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Cardinal Dolan’s conscience troubled? Not enough!

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 12, 2023

Writing in Our Sunday Visitor recently, Cardinal Timothy Dolan revealed that he has been examining his conscience:

Did we as a Church, here in the United States, go too far in obeying all the restrictions imposed during the COVID pandemic, resulting in a lack of pastoral care for those sick?

Give the affable prelate from New York some credit; at least he asks the question which so many other Church leaders still avoid. At least his conscience is stirring. But isn’t the answer painfully, blindingly obvious?

Yes, “we as a Church” did go too far—much too far—in slavish obedience to intrusive regulations that compounded the suffering. Yes, there was a staggering, scandalous lack of pastoral care for the sick—and for the healthy as well. Our churches were closed. Our people were denied the sacraments. What more evidence do we need, to make our Church leaders recognize that they betrayed their mission?

After congratulating himself for adhering strictly to the dictates of secular authorities, Cardinal Dolan comes back to the same question:

However, I ask myself—were we equally obedient to the biblical commands to be near the sick, to comfort the dying, to reverently bury the dead, and, for us deacons, priests and bishops, to bring the sacraments and the Church’s prayerful accompaniment to those very sick from the virus?

And again the answer is staring us all in the face. No, the Church did not obey the Lord’s commands. At the height of the epidemic, the sacraments were unavailable—not just to the sick, but to virtually all Catholics. At precisely the time when the Church should have been a beacon of hope, instead our pastors were contributing to a climate of pervasive fear—not only fear of the virus, but also fear of other people, who came to seen as vectors of infection rather than brothers and sisters in Christ.

The examination of conscience continues:

Did we raise the point that spiritual consolation given to patients was as essential as the bodily care? Did we insist that our churches needed to remain open for Mass and the sacraments, with all the precautions possible, instead of locking our doors?

No, and No. No, our pastors did not remind us that the welfare of our immortal souls is more important than our physical health; quite the contrary. Yet again, it was not only the sick—“patients”—who received that misleading message; we were all directed to stay home rather than unite in prayer at the Eucharistic Sacrifice. And No, with a few notable exceptions, our Catholic bishops did not protest the flagrant violation of religious freedom when governments orders the churches to close; they rushed to comply.

So the People of God were denied the sacraments. Sinners were not shriven, lovers were not married, babies were not baptized, the dying were not anointed. How many souls were lost because of that lack of pastoral care? How many strayed from the Church—and have not returned—because they were encouraged to accept the government edicts that religious worship is not an “essential” activity?

At this late date, a Catholic prelate should also realize that many of the restrictions his parishes enforced were wrongheaded at best. The severity of the lockdown brought incalculable damage to our society: causing permanent rifts in families, aggravating emotional problems, exacerbating mistrust of government (and of the Church), leading to secondary epidemics of suicide and drug abuse, producing spikes in the death rates for non-Covid diseases, and of course ruining tens of thousands of small businesses. Since Cardinal Dolan devoted most of his questions to care for the sick, he might also reflect on the government policies that led to unspeakable cruelty of herding elderly people into institutions that became death traps, where they died in enforced isolation, unable to see their loved ones. Cardinal Dolan apparently takes it on faith that the lockdown restrictions were, on balance, a benefit to society. The hard evidence suggests otherwise.

Cardinal Dolan “remains grateful that we did more than our part in obeying” the government restrictions during the Covid scare. But a Catholic bishop has no business “obeying” secular authorities if their mandates conflict with the Great Commission. The Covid epidemic was a test of all our institutions—government and Church and media and science—and sadly they all failed.

So it is cold comfort to learn that Cardinal Dolan’s conscience is troubled, that “part of me worries” about how history will judge the Church’s reaction to Covid and to the lockdown. Not troubled enough, Your Eminence. Not nearly enough.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: IM4HIM - Jul. 21, 2023 1:55 PM ET USA

    It would be better if all the Bishops up to and including Pope Francis admit the same failures on their part. But I'm afraid they don't want to risk offending their political leaders and lose lots of money and comfort. The time has come when they can't serve both God and mammon.

  • Posted by: I am Canadian! - Jul. 20, 2023 12:47 AM ET USA

    This is a little angry. That Cardinal Dolan is asking for forgiveness means we need to be charitable and forgive. To learn from our mistakes. To make sure we don't repeat the same mistakes, not hash them over and over and over again. I see this as an attempt to mend the trust that was broken by bad, but well-intended, decisions. Let's not be resentful and do our part to build the bridge like our Lord asks us to and that He taught us to pray for.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Jul. 14, 2023 11:58 PM ET USA

    Just as Captain Louis Renault in the film Casablanca was shocked to find gambling at Rick’s, Cardinal Dolan has belated conscience qualms over “our” (shouldn’t that be “his”) decisions to lock down the parishes during the Covid panic. In the film, the viewer understands the hypocrisy of Renault through his actions… what should we understand about Cardinal Dolan from his?

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Jul. 14, 2023 6:00 PM ET USA

    Dolan will usually talk the talk, but can't always be counted on to walk the walk. In this instance, he didn't even talk the talk.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jul. 14, 2023 11:00 AM ET USA

    I think Cardinal Dolan should first ask himself about how history will judge the his personal reaction to Covid and to the lockdown.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Jul. 13, 2023 4:11 PM ET USA

    Where is the call to educate priests in the service of science and medicine which were once considered worthwhile in the service of our faith? Lesser lights saw through the civil and moral depravity that was foisted on the world. And there remain shameless priests and bishops to this day who find NOTHING that they did objectionable in the least. Why not a Synod on this topic?!

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 13, 2023 11:27 AM ET USA

    It would be uplifting to see some expression of gratitude from the cardinal and other bishops for the priests who found ways to celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments for Catholic faithful — even clandestinely during the Covid lockdowns. Archbishop Cordileone did this during ordination Mass on May 26, saying: “I am grateful to you for that, and proud of you for doing so.”

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 13, 2023 8:47 AM ET USA

    Bravo!!! Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Gregory closed the churches BEFORE the mayor ordered it. He did join a successful lawsuit to raise the number of people allowed in church when they finally reopened. To be fair, we the people were supine, too. Most of us quickly bought the fear porn and many were damaged. I know people who did not leave their houses for almost a year, having everything delivered. I pray we all learned something about the abuse of authority.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Jul. 12, 2023 10:39 PM ET USA

    AMEN, Mr. Lawler!

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Jul. 12, 2023 6:14 PM ET USA

    Absolutely. Spot-on. Cardinal Dolan seems to be a likeable guy. I might enjoy a beer and a conversation with him, if it were possible, but his conscience is not troubled enough. No doubt about it. He would have been the perfect man to stand up to all that nonsense, but he did not.