LONDON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Contradicting Cdl. Robert Sarah's recent words, bishops in the United Kingdom are advising priests to withhold the sacraments from dying Catholics during the pandemic, but remain available for "telephone support."
In a statement published on Sunday, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales updated its hospital chaplaincy advice, stating it is "becoming increasingly clear that giving access to chaplains is difficult due to the scarcity of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], the risk of contagion to the chaplain as well as the chaplain becoming another link in the chain of infection."
They say priests "must follow the visiting instructions from hospital and trust authorities," and advise Catholic chaplaincy coordinators remain in constant contact with those authorities to ensure they have contact information of priests "available for telephone support of those who need it."
This sweeping measure contradicts sacramental instruction from Cdl. Sarah given in an exclusive interview with Valeurs actuelles on Thursday.
Sarah said "no one has the right to deprive a sick or dying person of the spiritual assistance of a priest. It is an absolute, inalienable right."
In his Theologia Moralis, Lib. VI, n. 3, St. Alphonsus de Ligouri says shepherds "under pain of mortal sin to give [extreme unction] to those who ask ... even in a time of plague, in such a manner that he might avoid danger to [his] life ... If those infected with plague might have confessed, one can omit [extreme unction] without sin."
Commenting on this text, canonist Ioannes Andreæ explains any bishop who "forbids his priests from administering extreme unction/anointing of the sick to dying Catholics who are not or have not been able to confess their sins due to physical or moral impossibility commits a most grievous sin, a terrible sin of injustice, not just lack of charity."
Signed by Bp. Paul Mason of the Forces — the military ordinariate that provides chaplains to the British Armed Forces — the updated hospital chaplaincy advice concludes by prioritizing the health of bodies over the health of souls: "Whilst this runs counter to our instinct to provide personal end-of-life sacramental and pastoral care, in the current circumstances minimizing the spread of the virus must be the priority of all."
Damian Thompson, associate editor of The Spectator and editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, said in a tweet Catholic bishops in England and Wales have abandoned "their sacred duty to visit the sick and give last rites for fear of contagion."
"This is stupid (surely possible to give sacraments in controlled conditions) and ... the word 'cowardly' comes to mind," he concluded.
Thompson's observation that it's "surely possible to give sacraments in controlled conditions" coincides with canonists who recently spoke with Church Militant. Concerning prelates in the United States, one canonist said the "bishops do not even have the good common sense that the CEO of Giant Foods, the CEO of Krogers and the CEO of Walgreens have."
"If people vulnerable to the coronavirus can go into a pharmacy or a grocery store while maintaining the necessary physical separation of social distancing," he added, "they can and must be able to do so in a Catholic church, chapel or oratory within which is reserved the Most Blessed Sacrament."
Like Thompson, the canonist also thought of cowardice: "The bishops presume that the spiritual (non-bodily) dimension will — indefinitely into the future — take care of all needs for religious food and medicine; this is cowardice or presumption."
Can. 843 §1 reads: "Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them," meaning the faithful have a right to receive the sacraments.
The canonist emphasized the sacraments must not be denied to the dying who seek them. Doing so constitutes grave dereliction of a sacred duty.
Canonist Philip Gray, president of St. Joseph's Foundation and director of Catholics United for the Faith, told LifeSite News if a priest "believes there is a violation of divine law by the bishop's directive [speaking of Masses being suppressed but applicable to all sacraments], he has an obligation to the divine law."