"In our induction that we do with staff we say it's good to do a 'spiritual care assessment'. Well, that's not high on their list, through no fault of their own. They're struggling with the physical stuff."
McNerney's comments were echoed by Fr. Mark Elliott Smith, who volunteered to serve as a chaplain at NHS Nightingale, London's coronavirus field hospital.
Asked if the Church was marginalized during the crisis, he said: "Here, at least, absolutely not. In fact, it seems to me that a hallmark of the Nightingale is that the contribution that a chaplain can make is valued, and that spiritual, pastoral, and above all sacramental care is made available."
"I would add that the Church will clearly want to continue making a vigorous case for its active presence in times like these, but my feeling is that the Church will be knocking at an open door."
Elliott Smith said that he agreed "to a certain extent" with McNerney's call for all seminarians to be trained thoroughly in hospital chaplaincy.
"The recent pandemic tells us that you can never know what lies round the corner, but I would be wary of, say, making great adjustments to seminary formation until we have a longer perspective," he commented.
He said the Church needs to assess the impact of the nationwide lockdown on Mass attendance and then draw conclusions about future priests and their formation.
"Priesthood is an intensely practical life in many ways, but what a priest actually does flows from who he is, and has been formed to be," he said.
"Of course, it's good to know what a hospital chaplain actually does, but if the priest has had a solid priestly formation, and has a modicum of common sense, becoming a chaplain should not hold too many terrors."
Elliott Smith said that while serving coronavirus patients he had drawn comfort from praying the Prayer to St. Michael: "Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle."
McNerney said he had felt sustained throughout the crisis by a prayer from the Divine Office: "Give us perfect peace, Lord, so that we may delight in serving you all the days of our life, and at the last, with Our Lady's help, come safely to your presence."
"It's a wonderful, wonderful prayer," he said.