Other Catholic medical professionals have weighed in on the question of whether Holy Communion can be distributed safely.
An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a document entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.” That group of doctors concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.
The document calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Singing should be avoided, and those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.
One member of that committee is Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health.
Baccarelli told CNA that he agrees with and appreciates Fauci’s suggestions, and that there is a risk to the distribution of Holy Communion.
“Our committee wrote a plan to minimize the risk to distribute communion. That doesn’t mean that there will be no risk nor that we advised on whether it was safe to do it now or in the future,” Baccarelli added. “We just provided a document to guide masses and distribute Communion whenever it will be safe enough to do so.”
“If Dr. Fauci suggests it is not time yet to distribute communion, I think we should listen to him and wait before doing that again,” Baccarelli said.
Another member of the committee told CNA last week that he believes Catholics can attend Mass safely, and sacraments can be administered with appropriate precautions.
“I think that if we just use common sense to compare apples to apples for metrics that we know matter - like density, for example - then there’s no real kind of objective scientific reason why Mass is any more dangerous than going to the grocery store. I think the difference here is a perceived risk,” Dr. Andrew Wang, an immunobiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine and one of the plan’s co-authors, told CNA.
The plan calls for confessions to be held in outdoor or well-ventilated indoor areas, with the use of masks, an impermeable barrier between the priest and penitent, and frequent sanitization of surfaces.
Wang said that distributing Holy Communion on the hand, rather than on the tongue, represents an appropriate precaution for churches, especially while some things about the coronavirus spread are not yet completely understood.
Acknowledging that some people may object to that recommendation, Wang said that in his perspective, “it boils down to, is it better to not have communion at all - and by extension not have Mass at all?”
Ultimately, Wang said, going to church at this time is not risk-free, just as any other public activity is not without risk during a pandemic. He noted that dioceses throughout the country have granted dispensations from the Sunday obligation for those who are unable to attend or are not comfortable with the risk involved.
Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely - if they observe CDC protocols.
“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.
If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.
“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”
“If somebody makes an arbitrary judgment that a church is not going to follow that guidance, without any evidence, that is biased and there is no evidence for that,” he said.
Flanigan questioned the categories of some governors who classified religious gatherings as “non-essential,” compared to more “essential” activities like grocery stores.
“Being able to come together and pray together, being able to receive the sacraments, to encounter the Lord, right there in the sacraments, is so important,” Flanigan said.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, just as important as spiritual health,” he said. “We are a whole self, which has a mind, a body, a heart a soul. To be able to pray together, to be able to support each other, to be able to worship together, to be able to receive the Lord in Communion, is so important for us to be healthy and to thrive.”
“That is why our churches are essential,” Flanigan told CNA.