A Polish archbishop is downplaying the risk of COVID-19, saying that “Christ does not spread germs and viruses”.
Despite the fact that the coronavirus has now infected 119 people and killed three in Poland – as well as tens of thousands more around the world – Archbishop of Szczecin-Kamień Andrzej Dzięga is continuing to claim that Catholics should keep up attending Mass during the outbreak and keep on taking Communion as well.
With regard to that last – taking Communion – that much even on the tongue and not in the hand, in defiance of both the Polish Bishops’ latest directives and the advice of the public health authorities.
In a pastoral letter widely publicised at the weekend, Dzięga even went as far as to attribute the coronavirus scare to Satan, according to a “rough translation” of the text made available Sunday at the Friendly Atheist blog:
“The tempter [Satan] knows perfectly well how to patiently weaken our closeness and unity with the Lord. He often starts with small matters.
“You have to tell him: go away, Satan. Satan is helpless against such expressive and explicit human testimony of faith. He’s terrified of it.
“It is not without reason that someone is afraid of something, like the devil of holy water. (…)
“Do not be afraid to reach for holy water with faith. Do not be afraid of the temple. Do not be afraid of the Church…”
– Catholics fire back: “Closer to ancient heresies than to orthodoxy”
In response to Dzięga’s letter downplaying the risk of coronavirus, the Friendly Atheist noted that other Catholic leaders in Poland are calling the text irresponsible and wrong, with one – Piotr Sikora from Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny – even claiming that the archbishop’s ideas are “closer to ancient heresies than to Catholic orthodoxy”.
“It is tragic that this theology [of Dzięga’s] can have socially disastrous results”, Sikora thundered.
“Many people, deceived by the episcopal argument… can take actions dangerous not only for their own health and life, but also jeopardising the health and lives of their loved ones”.
– “God is above the virus”
In his insistence that the faithful, during the coronavirus crisis, attend Mass, receive Communion on the tongue and even avail themselves of holy water, not only is Archbishop Dzięga going against the written advice of the Polish Bishops and the health authorities.
He is also defying the latest verbal cues of Polish Primate Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, who on Saturday appeared on Polish TV to encourage the faithful to skip physical attendance at Mass Sunday and to follow the service via media broadcasts.
“It’s about health and safety. The point is that we do not infect, to break the epidemiological chain”, Polak insisted.
“Only extraordinary circumstances can stop a disciple of Christ from personally participating in the Holy Liturgy”, Archbishop Dzięga countered in other extracts from his letter.
“A Christian cannot live without the Eucharist. (…) Christ distributes Holy purity and Life [and] restores health”, the prelate argued.
“Here… before the tiny coronavirus, even the greats of this world fall in fear, the same who were just a moment ago with God and His Laws were ready to fight. And yet God is above the virus”, Dzięga claimed.
The Archbishop of Szczecin-Kamień is hardly the only Church official in the world to have made irresponsible statements in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
“More than the coronavirus epidemic, we should dread the epidemic of fear!”, Bishop Pascal Roland of Belley-Ars in France wrote in a recent column published on the diocesan website, in which he also deplored the “collective panic” that has arisen around the disease.
The auxiliary bishop of Chur in Switzerland, Marian Eleganti, has meanwhile been arguing that coronavirus is God’s punishment for modern humanity’s faithlessness, in the face of which devout Catholics should expect “miracles”.
That argument that COVID-19 is divine punishment was definitively repudiated by Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, who declared: “Divine punishment does not exist. It is an incorrect view of Christianity”.