As the Catholic Church in the United States responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shock and awe of local churches suspending all public Masses for the foreseeable future draw a great deal of attention. But behind the scenes, the public health emergency has prompted additional layers of response that bring into focus how the church is intertwined with the wider society, reliant on revenue and served by people on payrolls.
“The church has a profound involvement in all this,” said Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where public Masses are suspended indefinitely though churches remain open. “Pope Francis puts it best. He wants a poor church for the poor, and it looks like his prayer is being answered.”
Wester’s archdiocese, which filed for bankruptcy in 2018, now faces the challenge shared by church administrators across the country of adopting action plans in response to the pandemic’s effects. This includes how best to support staff in chanceries, parishes and schools who are unable to come to work, possibly for months on end.
“It’s a work in progress, a fluid situation,” said Wester, who sent a personal letter to all chancery employees expressing his care and wishes for their safety. He characterized his message to them as, “Do what you need to do. … If you’re concerned, stay home.”
— Daniel P. Horan, OFM (@DanHoranOFM) March 20, 2020