By Paul Collits: The Freedoms Project. Photography by David Stephenson.
Will Covid kill the Church? It is a question that demands our attention.
Recently, following the incumbent Pope’s latest attack upon traditionally minded Catholics – in his motu proprio, ironically titled Traditonis Custodes – The Spectator’s religion correspondent, Damian Thompson, wondered aloud whether the Church could survive Pope Francis’s pontificate. He thought that it would, but cautioned that if another pope with a similar agenda and philosophy to Francis were elected, then it would not.
A big call, indeed, but not, upon reflection, remotely implausible, notwithstanding Our Lord’s assurance that the Church would always prevail, even before the gates of hell.
With regular attendance at Mass in Australia (as elsewhere) now confined to a tiny, and inevitably ageing, rump – eleven per cent, one bishop recently reported – the state of religious belief is grim, indeed. It isn’t only the Catholics that are in strife. After half a century of theological liberalism, of caving in to the zeitgeist, of dispensing with core tenets of their religious traditions, of sapped morale, all of the mainline Christian churches are now characterised by the abandonment of church attendance, weak faith and a failure to resist the existential attacks on them.
The Christian churches in their current state in the West call to mind Abraham’s plea to God to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, even if there are only five believers left in town.
The Church has many enemies. Having (sort of) survived the massive own goal of appalling child sex abuse and the associated managerial coverups, the Church has also had to face up to Vatican financial (and other) scandals, to suffer the attacks of Islamist terrorists, to see the emergence of an all-but-formal opposition to the Pope, in the person of Archbishop Vigano, and to have caved in to the face of Chinese Communist Party bullying.
Yet, none of these events of themselves need trigger a crisis of faith among believers, however disillusioned they might (rightly) be in the face of the utter failures of the earthly leadership of the Church. Not even all of them taken together are sufficient to crush belief in the One True God.
There is something else, though, that might. Probably will. The one thing that might kill the Church, or at least render it a formal shell of an institution peopled by souls who have lost their faith completely. This would be the dreaded Wuhan flu, or, more accurately, the tyrannical Covid State’s and the Church’s reactions to it.
It is a truism that Covid has “changed the world”. It far surpasses all other events, certainly in our lifetimes, to which pundits have ascribed this phrase. They said, twenty years ago now, that 9-11 did. It didn’t. Covid world is different because Covid has touched every single life on the planet. No, not merely touched it, but smashed it up and rearranged it. I am sure that other families and households have gone through the equivalent of my own feeble list – two weddings not held, a nearly year-old grandson overseas never even met, a child with learning difficulties beyond the reach of much needed extra family care, closed borders preventing family connections, schools and pre-schools shut down and denying irreplaceable social learning for our young, overseas travel denied, interstate travel denied, and, worst of all, the coming ostracisation of our family’s many vaccine conscientious objectors from even the little pleasures of life. Very possibly from employment, unless there is consequential pushback, and very soon.
The impact of the Covid dictatorship is personal. Very personal.
Forced to wear useless, oppressive masks, to experience lockdowns that don’t work, prevented from seeing anyone while under house arrest, ordered about and often physically set upon by thuggish police and now the army, confined by curfews, given ridiculous and ever-changing directions by the unelected, held up everywhere by needless bureaucracy and unconstitutional rule, stopped from travelling – as in North Korea and Cuba, Australians cannot even leave the country and never return – and subjected to a thousand pettifogging demands that sap the will to live of anyone with a modicum of self-respect, Australians are the victims of totalitarian rule. And now we are the subject of the world’s sympathy, disbelief, mocking, and, in some cases, pity.
Which brings us back to the Church and the Covid State. The estimable Mark Powell in Quadrant recently described living in contemporary Australia as Hobbesian and dystopian. Few would disagree. He notes:
The COVID crisis gave rise to socialistic government policies that seek to control lives in the name of saving lives. It threatens society with a cure that is far worse than the disease.
Sadly, churches have largely acquiesced to nearly everything that has been imposed by the NSW government. They have done this not only out of love for neighbour, but to rightly honour the governing authorities whom we believe God has placed over us for our good (i.e. Rom. 13:1-7).
Powell is being generous. Render unto Caesar, and all that. But what if Caesar renders unto us inescapable pain for no reason? What if Caesar snaps the social contract described as the basis of legitimate government by John Locke and other early liberals? There is also a right, indeed a moral duty, to resist tyranny, debated (for example) in many commentaries on Romans 13.
As Francis Schaeffer once put it, “since tyranny is satanic, not to resist it is to resist God, to resist tyranny is to honor God”.
Then there is Douglas Wilson:
When modern Christians exhort us to do “whatever the governor says,” and they do this in the name of obeying Romans 13, the irony is that they are violating Romans 13 as they do this. The duty of the people to resist unlawful encroachments of those who hold office is a duty that every citizen is a part of. To say that the people do not have the right to do this is to kick against our established constitutional authorities.
It is one thing to draw attention to the feeble lack of leadership among Australia’s now corporatised churches in the face of faith-destroying Covid totalitarianism, but another to expose the depth, breadth and significance of their failures.
We thought, in 2020, that shutting down the churches was appalling, and noteworthy. Now, twelve months on, there is hardly a murmur, even in the world of indie publishing, about the fresh closure of churches in areas where there is no Covid, no illness from Covid, no deaths from Covid, and not even a false positive from a PCR test. Great swathes of the country are closed down and the people under house arrest at the time of writing, with only the vaccinated promised an end to the nightmare. Has a single Church leader condemned this?
Only two of which I am aware – the brave Orthodox Bishop in Fairfield, and a Catholic priest in Tasmania, have spoken out against the madness of lockdowns and the rest. I hope there may be more, but mostly these will remain under the radar.
An Orthodox Christian leader has slammed Sydney’s Covid lockdown as ‘mass slavery’ and claimed vaccines are futile because living ‘normally’ will boost immunity.
Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel told parishioners during service at Wakeley’s Christ The Good Shepherd Church, in the city’s west, Australians are being treated ‘like animals’ under coronavirus restrictions.
The church leader claimed the impacts of the disease have been ‘exaggerated’ and people’s immune systems were designed by ‘god’ (sic) to combat diseases without vaccination.
Equally, has a single church leader, apart from Bishop Mari Emmanuel, condemned the coming vaccine apartheid, just about the most evil act of any Western government in my lifetime? No jab, no job. No jab, no life.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney recently roused itself to unfamiliar activism in pursuit of a cause. It even engaged the services, no doubt at considerable cost, of Michael Photios, the man who runs New South Wales. This related to the threat by the NSW Government to the Catholic and other religious management of cemeteries. A worthy cause, without doubt. But is this the hill to die on? Really?
Led by a patently pro-vaxx Pope, despite the concerns of many lay people and a few churchmen – Anthony Fisher, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, was briefly vocal on this in 2020 – about cell lines from aborted foetuses being used in either the production processes that led to the vaccines, or in the vaccines themselves, the churches have been mute about the disgraceful infringement of rights that are the inevitable outcome of Covid vaccine madness. Have the churches anything left to say, on any major issue?
We should be thankful that Cardinal Raymond Burke has stood out against forced vaccinations, as he has on so many other madnesses, both ecclesial and secular. Didn’t the legacy media have a field day when he recently got Covid and very nearly died?
The corporatist model of church and State that now pervades the Western hemisphere has led to a situation where mainline religions fear offending the ever-growing State, including the Covid State, for fear of offending it and having what goodies they are given by the State taken away. They even resist attacking the State – perhaps they fear poking the bear – when the actions of the State attack them, and seek to have them forcibly removed from the public square. At least some churchmen, though not many, have been vocal against the attacks on the seal of the confessional.
No, far worse that the supine, sit-in-the-corner attitude of church “leaders” to the crushing of their own people that has occurred under lockdowns and the like is the impact of Covid fascism on individual souls.
The churches have exhibited compliance and conformity on steroids. Community leaders with pulpit power have a moral obligation to acquaint themselves with Covid facts and to counter the misinformation (propaganda) routinely spat out by self-serving, vacillating, lying politicians. Politicians who, each day, give out information that is false and misleading. Daily mortal sins of information omission and commission. Thou shalt not lie. Misinformation about masks, about lockdowns, about the non-lethality of the virus, especially its variant Delta strain, about the risks, the lack of effectiveness and the absence of a real need of vaccines for all bar a tiny minority of the population. Where bullying of the innocent conscientious objectors who refuse the jab is rife and growing, where are our ecclesial supports?
Where is the pastoral care? Now we have Catholic parents pressuring Catholic schools to insist on children being vaccinated before they are admitted to the classroom. Where will the madness end? Where are the brave priests who might use the pulpit to remind Catholic parents of their duty to be Christian? Unsymptomatic children who DO NOT get Covid and do not spread it, but who might well suffer harm from the jab, are NOT lepers. St Damian of Molokai, pray for us.
When governments will not follow the science but rather instead rely on the whacky global agendas of tech billionaires, other institutions which are supposed to be wedded to the truth must step in and yell “Stop!”
Let us explore three particular issues where there is an urgent need for the Church to speak out and to defend its congregation from the sheer cruelty of the Covid State.
First. We are denied the consolation of the sacraments right at the time when occasions of addictive, escapist sin are on the rise. The Mass is now a show on the television celebrated by pastors and bishops who, alas, seem to be glorying in their newfound online fame. They see this as “ministry”. Do not poke the bear. Loneliness among the aged – and these are the people who mostly (used to) go to church – is palpable. Those withering away in aged “care” facilities are condemned possibly to unprovided (that is, without recourse to the Last Rites) deaths as well as utter bewilderment at the prospect of living their final days in solitude. No happy goodbyes to loved ones allowed. Not even a proper funeral after their passing. And what about the strugglers, those of relatively little faith and the sinners, who crave regular Mass and the sacraments to, literally, keep alive the dwindling embers of their faith. Many will be lost to the Church, and to eternal happiness. All as a result of venal politicians and institutions that refused to resist them. I am still to hear a prayer for the faithful along the following lines:
For those who resist the Covid State, its lockdowns, it ridiculous rules, it cruelty, its madness. For their bravery in the face of tyranny, for their service to their misguided fellow citizens. For their refusal to be cowed, even in the face of mockery and name-calling by the State and by their fellow citizens.
Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.
Lockdowns are crushing souls and damning souls to hellfire. Where is the ecclesial pushback? Its absence is unforgivable.
Second. Suffer the little children. Well, they are suffering from the Covid state. Their young lives have been bent out of shape by governments who may or may not be thinking genuinely that they are protecting them. Children do not get Covid. They are not dying. They do not need vaccines. Vaccines might harm them. Even kill them. They will never get back the time they have lost. But not only “time”. Essential physical, social and mental development has been squandered. Banging children up with bored, cranky parents and siblings for months on end? Denying teenagers the opportunities for face-to-face interaction with their peers. (It is what they live for.) Exposing the young to increased domestic violence. Making children learn without proper teaching and pastoral support outside the home.
As Stephen Fry has observed, children and young people have been hit hardest by repeated Covid lockdowns.
It has been well reported that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of the nation for a wide swathe of reasons – the loneliness and isolation associated with multiple lockdowns, not being able to spend time with loved ones, the loss of jobs and livelihoods as a result of economic recession.
Mind’s research, however, has found that it is our young people who are among the hardest hit.
(Mind is a British mental health charity).
This is evil. It should have been called out as evil. It should have been called out as evil by the Church. Over and over again. It is no wonder that youth suicide rates are through the roof. Who will own this crisis, if not the Church and its currently silent, holed-up pastors?
Third. The wickedness of the political class during the Covid nightmare, a political class that has ruined lives, has engendered in people entirely justified anger, resentment, even hatred and an unwillingness to forgive. Not terribly Christian sentiments. The urge to join in the street protests – appallingly, condemned from the pulpit by the odd, clueless priest, who should know better, as “selfishness” – and to resist State controls and police thuggery with equal force cannot be confined to this writer.
The great St John Paul II fought the good fight and joined (in spirit) with those who resisted the evil tyranny of Soviet communism. He clearly knew his Romans 13. This was the fight of his own time, in which he engaged with courage and vigour. The horrors of Chinese communist imperialism, worldwide, lethal Islamist terrorism and the evil that is untrammelled globalisation, the dictatorship of relativism noted by his successor, let alone the universal Covid dictatorship, still lay ahead in the future. I wonder what he would think of a global Church whose leaders – the bishops – choose to sit out the greatest threat to Western freedom in modern history, going along to get along. A threat perpetrated by democratically elected governments which have smashed the rights of their people in order to preserve their own miserable tenure in office.
As Mark Powell notes:
This fear and response eventually and inevitably leads to conflict with those who question the wisdom of suppressing most activities. That is why this Hobbesian COVID-19 view requires Leviathan, the dictatorial state, enforcing by threat and coercion capricious rules. Leviathan understands little people need to be kept compliant.
Keeping the people, who have no release from the pressure, under the thumb of grotesquely disproportional public health orders that have no public consent is asking for popular rebellion. We are now living some sort of combination of Brave New World and Mad Max, but we may be facing Golding’s Lord of the Flies, or, worse, Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began. Surely the churches can see what is coming, and might have been expected to have played the role of honest broker with the State, in order to cut this coming civil war off at the pass and to preserve a modicum of unity in a hopelessly divided land. But no, they have not seen what is coming, the very fracturing of civil society, and they have refused to step up to the plate to intervene. Their lack of leadership became entrenched long ago, and now we are paying the price.
Fearing being shut down if they disobeyed State directions, the churches have caved. Lives are being lost, spirits crushed, families destroyed and souls condemned to hell, while our spiritual leaders have simply worried about QR code sign-ins at the church door and dispensing disinfectant hand-wash. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.
So, yes, a case can be made that Covid is destroying the Church. Even that the End Times are upon us. Candidates for the Antichrist abound. Maybe it is no coincidence that medicos wear white. We are merely in the early stages of global tyranny, as Douglas Murray has noted. The evil that men do is coming into fresh and sharp focus. What can and will be wrought by technocracy, by the coming “singularity”, by the crushing of the human spirit by artificial intelligence, by the ending of free speech by Big Tech, by the ruthless profiteering of Big Pharma and the Lord of the Vaccines, Mr Eugenics, Bill Gates? We are asleep at the wheel. And, other than for a few wise and prescient churchmen, so is the Barque of St Peter.
The Church never fares well in times of totalitarian rule. We would do well to recall this.
What two popes of the inclinations of the incumbent can achieve by way of destruction is but nothing compared to what the evil totalitarianism of the Covid State has wrought already. And if the reasonable fears of those so ridiculously branded as “conspiracy theorists” are even one tenth fulfilled, then the future evil to be wrought by the coming diabolical world order will, no doubt, place a knowing smile on the face of the prince of this world. The one who, as Charles Baudelaire suggested, pulled his greatest trick when he convinced the world that he didn’t exist. Perhaps his encore has been to convince the world there is a deadly pandemic that justifies totalitarian madness.
We do now stand at the gates of hell. With apologies to Tom Petty, will we back down? Will there even be five souls left resisting the work of Satan?
Paul Collits is an Australian freelance writer and independent researcher. He publishes widely across a number of Australia’s leading publications and has been one of the country’s single most cogent commentators throughout the Covid era. He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines – politics, geography and planning and business studies. A collection of his writing published in A Sense of Place Magazine can be found here. He posts regularly at The Freedoms Project here.
David Stephenson’s photographs are about very big ideas: the endless tracts of the Antarctic icecap; the vastness of the starry heavens; the spiritual grandeur of the great domes of European sacred buildings and the luminous complexity of the modern metropolis. While they are pleasing to look at, his images go far beyond the usual bounds of what we think of as beauty. They address a state of mind that, in the language of Western aesthetic ideas, is called the sublime, both transcendent and disturbing. For more of his stunning work go to his website here.