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When the time comes for civil disobedience...

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 20, 2020

Here’s the question—THE question—that’s on my mind these days: As governors continue to impose tight restrictions on churches, when will Catholic bishops encourage civil disobedience?

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Archbishop Sample of Portland seems to have answered that question, saying it’s not going to happen.” Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco sends a different message: “I’m taking no options off the table.”

In France, Bishop Ginoux of Montauban has gone considerably further, urging the faithful to show up for Mass. “It’s easy to ask bishops to take the lead if no one stands behind them,” he reasons; “invade the churches at Mass times, ask for the Mass and bishops and priests will come to celebrate it.”

That sounds quite reasonable to me. But there are a few practical difficulties. Which churches should we invade? And what are the Mass times? Or should we, the lay faithful, make those decisions for ourselves: choose a church and a time, assemble, and wait—and pray—for a willing priest? I’d be willing.

This is not a mere theoretical question. I was stunned and dismayed (“scandalized,” I think, is the right word) earlier this year, when one diocese after another meekly acceded to government directives, and shut off access to the sacraments. If it happens again I want to be ready.

Who’s with me?

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: richardhouwing0015753 - Nov. 24, 2020 6:21 PM ET USA

    Hi Phil, I'm writing from Australia, where thankfully we have the Covid infections under control. Our Governments put safe-conduct limitations on all religious worships which included 1.5mtrs social distancing and no super-spreading activities. It has called forth a plethora of creative and compassionate responses with more Masses, live-streaming Mass, spiritual communion, neighbour caring for neighbour, etc. The faith of our community has grown through selfless charitable acts to each other.

  • Posted by: philtech2465 - Nov. 22, 2020 10:29 PM ET USA

    I feel blessed. Ohio's has exempted religious gatherings from the start from health orders and advisories. Parishes require masks, rope off every other pew and otherwise enforce social distancing. (There is no holy water and receiving on the tongue is either discouraged or outright banned. I'm not happy about that). But Masses are open and the faithful receive the sacraments. My prayers for believers in states and localities where public Masses are heavily restricted or banned.

  • Posted by: pharmer94 - Nov. 22, 2020 1:18 PM ET USA

    In times of great suffering, great graces abound. I can't help but wonder what saints will rise up from these times. I pray to have the fortitude to be one of them!

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Nov. 22, 2020 3:54 AM ET USA

    Mass and the sacraments are essential. We should not let the government or its agents dictate otherwise. The Portland Bishop is a loser. Wolf in sheep's clothing. Shutting off the Churches has no effect on Covid spreading. We should fight tooth and nail. They let Walmarts,Targets and Home Depot to be essential. Their rules are pure bias against religion and the work to destroy the 1st Amendment. We must rebel or lose our rights. St Michael protect us.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Nov. 22, 2020 1:46 AM ET USA

    I’m game. I’m retired, and even arrest would cost me little. To lose this year’s Lent and Easter was bad enough, but now it is six days until Advent and California churches have just been ordered to cease indoor worship again. We’ve all patiently borne this tyrannical, unscientific lockdown long enough. It’s time to make the Church’s enemies rue the day they got between God and His people.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 21, 2020 1:37 PM ET USA

    I'm with you! Wholeheartedly so. Back in March, a two weeks lock down was intended to "flatten the curve" and end the virus. The strategy not only didn't work but resulted in many unintended tragic consequences. Closing churches worldwide was especially bad idea, and totally pointless.

  • Posted by: tjbenjamin - Nov. 20, 2020 11:12 PM ET USA

    I’m with you! Perhaps because of anti-Catholic bigotry now and in the past, the bishops seem too willing to go along to get along. See what good citizens we are! My parish in Tacoma is back to daily and Sunday Masses, but attendance is limited. We register ahead of time, wear masks, and sit far apart. No holy water, hymns, bulletins, religious education classes or Bible studies except on Zoom, a poor substitute. But people are afraid, so we comply. Diabolical!

  • Posted by: cheriepeacock1703 - Nov. 20, 2020 10:26 PM ET USA

    I'm with you, and most dioceses have priests who would show up. But their parishioners want to protect them (both from secular authorities and their own bishops) by conforming to all conformable regulations. Here in SD, we can reasonably have Mass outside nearly every Sunday, although it will be a hardship for the elderly and infirm. In the colder regions of CA, the outdoor Mass mandate is going to become increasingly undoable for many people. That's where I hope there's rebellion.

  • Posted by: edenjohnson364256 - Nov. 20, 2020 9:53 PM ET USA

    I AM WITH YOU, I CAN NOT LIVE WITHOUT DAILY MASS AND COMMUNION AND ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT. I AM WITH YOU ALL THE WAY AND I KNOW THAT MANY OTHERS ARE, TOO! I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT THE PORTLAND BISHOP SAID THAT!

  • Posted by: bjettner3980 - Nov. 20, 2020 8:52 PM ET USA

    I believe it is past time for civil disobedience. It's a matter of logistics. Our pastor locks the doors of the church until 15 minutes before Mass. Then, people are let in until church attendees are properly socially-distanced at which time every one trying to come in are told they cannot come in for Mass and that they should go home and watch live stream. If we tried to flood the church with people, there would be a tussle. I'm all for a "charitable tussle" at this point. Ideas welcome.

  • Posted by: joy - Nov. 20, 2020 8:48 PM ET USA

    I’m with you, Phil!

  • Posted by: anne.mitzel3608 - Nov. 20, 2020 8:39 PM ET USA

    In answer to your last question, "Who's with me?" I'd say the St. Charles Borromeo Society, openourchurches.org. At least there are organizations of laypeople willing to fight to keep our churches open, and hold prayer gatherings outside the closed churches as you encourage us to do.

  • Posted by: ptylermiddleton7124 - Nov. 20, 2020 8:24 PM ET USA

    I am. My wife and I have been ushering at our parish since churches reopened in Massachusetts the beginning of May. Our parish has had no problems.

  • Posted by: Foundas - Nov. 20, 2020 7:34 PM ET USA

    “A mans gotta do, what a mans gotta do”.

  • Posted by: patsette1269 - Nov. 20, 2020 6:59 PM ET USA

    It's easy to imagine ourselves in orange jumpsuits bravely standing up for our faith. But the left is tricky. Suppose they came for our kids and put them in foster homes - after all, we're "unfit parents who would expose our children to unsafe practices." Think there's due process in these situations? Think again. We can be marshalling all our facts, while our kids are in foster homes being indoctrinated who knows how? All I say is - be willing to pay the real, not the imagined - price.

  • Posted by: realsig1 - Nov. 20, 2020 6:18 PM ET USA

    Can't you understand that meeting in groups feeds the virus? You are not being deprived of the Sacraments, you are being preserved for them. I just talked to a hospitalized priest who is close to being placed on a ventilator. One of his brother priests died a few months back from the disease. These liturgical restrictions are part of the duty of ordinaries in order to safeguard their flocks and their pastors. It's too easy to accuse the bishops of timidity. Our duty is to tough it out.

  • Posted by: leticia.cadiz4543 - Nov. 20, 2020 5:56 PM ET USA

    i am with you , saddens me to see the lack of courage by the majority of Bishops.......am very concerned there will be no Christmas Mass celebrations as they did on Easter Sunday i'll follow your advice and gather other catholics to force churches to open and celebrate Mass