The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a social science research center out of Georgetown University, recently released a survey in which bishops shared how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Catholic Church in their dioceses, and what the future may hold as the effects of the pandemic continue.
The survey, Ministry in the Midst of Pandemic: A Survey of Bishops, included the responses of 116 bishops, and Fr. Sullins expressed his gratitude to the bishops for taking the time to fill out the survey so that the faithful can be more informed.
“These dear bishops have been hit hard by this pandemic,” Fr. Sullins said. “God bless them. Nothing in their preparation, their seminary, or their experience would have prepared them for a global pandemic and orders to shut down churches in some instances, and severely restrict Masses in others.”
In describing the survey, CARA asked the question, “After taking such a hard hit financially, how can U.S. bishops help parishes be “field hospitals” for the sick during a time of so much need?”
On this question, Fr. Sullins pointed out, “The pandemic is not an interruption to our ministry. It is our ministry. It is up to us to figure out how to bring Christ into the midst of this time of fear, disruption, and difficulties for many people.”
A large percentage of bishops indicated in the survey that they are considering closing at least one school or parish as a result of the financial impacts of the pandemic. Closing and/or merging parishes and schools is a difficult choice that many bishops have to wrestle with even in more normal times. But the effects of the COVID crisis may speed up the closure of parishes and schools that are on financially shaky ground.
“We are in a long-term trend of closing parishes in this country,” Fr. Sullins pointed out. “I think it is a blessing to the Church to have bishops who are going to face up to that difficult choice. Because otherwise we get into a position where we have lots of parishes that are kept open, just barely, because people have sentimental attachment to that local institution. And the ministry and the Gospel is degraded by that.”
“You have lots and lots of money going to maintenance, to keeping things the way they were, and eventually it doesn’t work. There’s lots and lots of energy that goes to maintaining and keeping things the way that they were. It is a wise thing to have someone who has the authority to say, ‘You know what, we need to focus on the future.'”
Drew shared his thoughts on the idea of parishes and schools closing, saying, “I’d much rather have them stay open, personally. Because I think there are institutions that are still needed in the country that will close because of COVID. I guess I’m saddened by it. The more Catholic institutions and resources we have to serve the laity, the better our country will be.”
Fr. Sullins acknowledged that this is a time when the faithful must hope in the Lord, and pray that amidst the pandemic Catholics will hold ever more firmly to Christ and find new ways to share the Gospel with the world.
“It’s definitely a time of shaking, and all the things we thought were fixed are moving,” Fr. Sullins said. “The ground is moving beneath our feet and being shaken. And like the epistle to the Hebrews says, God is going to shake and shake, and everything that can be shaken off will be shaken off. And the things that are left are those things that are unshakeable.”
Read the full survey, Ministry in the Midst of Pandemic: A Survey of Bishops, and listen to the full conversation with Fr. Paul Sullins below: