Sunday. The last few days have marked a change in my mood. A week ago, I started following daily statistics posted on the New York City Department of Health website. The data made clear that the city is not heading to an infectious disease Armageddon, as the politicians and media have been shouting for the last two weeks.
The number of hospitalizations per day in New York for those with the Wuhan flu has been the same for the last 14 days. Since the average stay for those infected is less than 14 days, this means that the health system, at present, is functioning (and functioning well, by all accounts) under a heavy but steady load. There has not been “exponential growth,” as some journalists report, nor, it seems, will there be.
This does not make the jobs of doctors, nurses, EMTs, aides, and others easier. They are working hard and heroically. There will be staffing challenges as caregivers themselves get sick. Getting resources to hospitals under particular strain will require good leadership.
Nevertheless, the trend in New York suggests a dangerous disease, not a catastrophic scenario. This means we need to begin to ask ourselves hard questions. How were we stampeded into a state of panic? What has this crisis revealed about you and me? About our society? About our churches?
In this spirit of self-examination I pass along a letter that fell into my hands on Friday. The first paragraph sheds helpful light on what this crisis reveals about the leadership of the Catholic Church.
Allow me to offer my preliminary gloss. A priest who denies Communion to a politician notorious for his support of abortion risks censure. A priest who offers the Mass too frequently in the traditional form risks censure. And, it seems, priests who provide the sacraments in a trying time risk censure.
In a few hours I will go to an evening Mass to sit in a vast, empty church with a handful of people while the priest offers the Mass. I will not name the priest. Nor will I name the church or the borough in which it is located. This is because his sensible pastoral response to our extraordinary circumstances, if known, will bring censure.
Why censure? There are many reasons, some doubtless good. But in the spirit of fraternal correction, I will speak of less edifying reasons.
Put bluntly, a certain percent of our aging clergy (some in positions of authority) worry that they will get the disease and die. Others are concerned that they will be blamed for spreading the disease and causing the deaths of others. They insist that everyone adopt their methods of extreme caution.
This horsewhipping of younger clergy into mainstream mediocrity has been going on for a long time. But enough. I am putting words into your mouths, dear readers. You can make up your own minds, as we all will need to do in the coming weeks.
Feast of the Annunciation, 2020
The authors of the letter have asked for it to be removed.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.