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The effects of the pandemic: A survey of U.S. Catholic bishops



John Burger - published on 09/16/20 - updated on 09/15/20

Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate surveyed bishops on responses to pandemic.

Pope Francis has expressed his desire that the Church can be a “field hospital” for wounded souls. Seven years into his pontificate, that image has come alive for many, as the Church can provide both spiritual and physical care for a society enduring a major health emergency.

But the field hospital itself has been badly affected by that same health emergency and is not able to respond as it might like. Just how affected the Church is by the pandemic is the subject of a new report from a social science research agency serving the Church in the United States.

In a survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), U.S. bishops report that many archdioceses, dioceses, eparchies, parishes, and Catholic schools have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the areas of sacramental celebrations, rites, and preparation, as well as financially. A lesser but still substantial proportion of dioceses report being greatly affected in the areas of the morale of parish and diocesan personnel and in their Catholic Charities organizations’ abilities to serve those in need, CARA reports.

“To address these challenges, dioceses and eparchies have enacted/issued and/or are considering a wide variety of remedies including: pastoral guidance from bishops about how to provide for sacramental needs while adhering to local and state guidelines and ordinances, helping parishes apply for governmental aid, encouraging parishioners to consider giving to their parishes electronically, offering Catholic schools help with providing distance learning to students, helping parishes host online Masses, adapting the assessments parishes pay to their dioceses, eliminating or curbing diocesan programs, and closing some Catholic schools or parishes,” the agency said.

CARA reported that nearly half of bishops reported that the morale of deacons and priests has been strongly affected, with about one-fifth saying the morale of lay ecclesial ministers, the bishops themselves, and the chancery staff has been “very affected.”

Also, about a quarter of bishops indicate that Catholic Charities’ ability to serve those in need has been “very affected.”

The survey gave bishops the chance to write about their particular situations, in addition to checking off boxes of multiple choice questions. Concerning financial matters, bishops wrote in that they are most worried about parishes not having their regular offertory collections when churches were closed to the public, the financial health of parishioner households, paying parish and chancery staff members in the short- and long-run, and whether to cut back or eliminate existing parish and diocesan programs. Two major ways that dioceses have been responding to these difficulties are by helping parishes apply to federal and state programs (such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program) and encouraging parishioners to consider electronic giving for their parishes’ offertory collections.

“What dioceses and eparchies have been relatively less likely to consider is also of consequence: closing some Catholic elementary schools, high schools, or parishes (45%, 26%, and 26%, respectively, have either done so or are considering doing so),” CARA reported.

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