Cardinal Discusses Coronavirus Precautions With Priests

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Amid the growing global and local crisis known as the coronavirus, Cardinal Dolan, in a March 18 video conference with archdiocesan priests, discussed ways the archdiocese has responded to the deadly outbreak, and further precautions being planned.

The conference, which included other archdiocesan leaders, focused largely on measures various archdiocesan agencies have put into place, including ArchCare, Catholic Charities, the Superintendent of Schools Office, archdiocesan governance and on the general impact the outbreak is having on parishes and the archdiocese. Listeners exceeded 300 people, mostly pastors and parochial vicars of parishes.

“Brothers, first of all, I hope you are all alright. We worry about you. We’re on the frontlines here,” Cardinal Dolan said. “If there’s anybody that comes into contact with the sick, it would be ourselves, the priests in the Church—rightly so; we’re acting in persona Christi. And He was the greatest healer ever; and like Him, we always need to be available to the sick. So obviously we’re very vulnerable, just because of our apostolate.”

The cardinal added, “We’re also vulnerable, pardon me for saying it…because a good chunk of us are over 70, and a good chunk of us already have some preconditions that make us prone to being vulnerable to the coronavirus.” He added, “If any of you are sick, if you fear that you’ve been exposed, if you’re worried about anything, let us know...I appreciate what you’re doing more than ever.”

Cardinal Dolan assured participants that “the Church is still alive and humming,” even though public Masses are not being offered at this point.

  “The Church with a capital C, meaning the Mystical Body of Christ, that still goes on, and a lot of that is due to you, brothers. …We are all on duty…We’re all as concerned about our people, if not more so than ever. And I thank you for that good example.

“We trust that this is an occasion of the renewal of God’s grace and mercy. We trust that many people are going to return to the Lord. How providential in a way that this is going on during Lent, because this is our version of the paschal mystery—the unity with Jesus in dying so that we’re close to Him in His rising.”

Some other archdiocesan policies have been updated since the conference.

•Baptisms administered within the parish setting are to be deferred, except in case of emergency. In those cases, a priest should be contacted immediately.

Funeral Masses or services in the church or funeral home will no longer be conducted until further notice. Burial prayers may be said in an open air setting in a cemetery, as long as proper distancing of the 10 people allowed by state regulation is maintained.

•Weddings are not permitted, unless absolutely necessary. If a wedding must take place, only the bride, groom, two witnesses and the officiant may be present, with proper physical distance observed.

•Individual confessions may be offered upon request, as long as hygiene and physical distancing requirement are observed.

• Holy Communion may be administered as viaticum only.

• If parish churches are kept open for prayer, then definite hours must be announced and no public ceremonies such as the Mass or group devotions may take place.

Other topics addressed were:

The sanitizing of church buildings is ongoing, such as cleaning doors, doorknobs and pews. “We’re most attentive, of course, to the people that we know are already sick—our homebound people, our people in fragile health—to stay in touch with them by phone, to continue our Communion calls if we’re able to,” Cardinal Dolan said.

Flocknotes, in place for years in the archdiocese, is more essential than ever, to facilitate real-time communication among close to 300,000 people during this time of school closures and no public Masses. “Thank God for those of you who automatically have the emails of all your parishioners, so you can stay in touch and communicate,” the cardinal said. 

Communications related to the coronavirus, or COVID-19— in ongoing and effective ways, was a key topic. Msgr. Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, told the priests, “Apart from the Tuesday and Friday emails, there’s probably going to be something every day.” Msgr. LaMorte noted some priests had reported not receiving the initial emails, and that this concern would be looked into.

Mass is available through various forums, such as the St. Patrick’s Cathedral website, the Catholic Faith Network, now in partnership with the Archdiocese of New York, and on Catholic Channel XM Satellite Radio. For more information, check the archdiocesan website, www.archny.org.

Others who participated included Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy; Scott LaRue, ArchCare president and chief executive officer; John Cahill, archdiocesan chancellor; Bill Whiston, archdiocesan chief financial officer; and Dr. Walid Michelen, chief medical officer at ArchCare, who presented updated information related to the global impact of COVID-19.

On health risk factors, Bishop Whalen told the priests, “We know we’re a big risk group. We can’t be going down sick. The biggest question I’ve been getting is about anointing. Wear the gloves. Wear the masks.”

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