Rendering to Caesar in An Epidemic: the Limits of Authority, by Phil Lawler

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By Phil Lawler, Catholic Culture, May 20, 2020

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

My friend and colleague Jeff Mirus cautions us that we should not rush into judgment of our Church leaders; we should not leap to a premature conclusion that they are bowing to civil authorities by restricting pastoral ministry during the current epidemic. He is right, of course, and I recognize in myself a strong tendency toward rash judgment: a tendency that I need to control.

Nevertheless I cannot escape the conclusion that devout Catholics have good reason to suspect that in this crisis, their pastors have been more worried about the political ramifications of their actions than the pastoral fallout. I say this for three reasons:

  1. Quite often, the restrictions announced by Church leaders have exactly matched, point by point, the regulations issued by civil authorities. In Rome, the police closed down access to St. Peter’s Square (which is within their jurisdiction), and then a few hours later the Vatican announced the closing of St. Peter’s basilica (which is under Vatican control). Was that a coincidence? The same pattern was evident all around the world: Church leaders closed churches as soon as public officials imposed emergency rules. Only rarely did Catholic leaders resist the imposition of civil orders on religious activities.  …

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