Cardus on “The Church, the State, and the Pandemic”

October 16, 2020

Fr. Deacon Andrew Bennett, Director of RFI’s North America Action Team, recently moderated a discussion on “The Church, the State, and the Pandemic,” hosted by Cardus Religious Freedom Institute. Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the discussion centered on the relationship between civil authorities and religious communities, what duties each has to the other, and whether those duties have been fulfilled.

In particular, the panel explored the various quarantine restrictions on public worship and community outreach imposed during the pandemic, and how those restrictions have impacted the life of faith communities. At the heart of the discussion was the question: have the restrictions at any point posed a threat to the proper exercise of religious freedom?

In her opening remarks, Dr. Moira McQueen of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute explained:

I really do think that the state does not only have a duty but also a responsibility to use at least the best public health evidence available in terms of how it then imposes restrictions … and I think as responsible citizens, we must follow them.

She then qualified that these restrictions must be “reasonable” as citizens cannot be expected to follow them otherwise.

Yet, who decides on these restrictions and how are they determining which ones to impose? Bennett highlighted a recent critique by some that “those making decisions are not taking into account a full range of perspectives from mental health professionals, or from those who offer pastoral care and spiritual counsel…” As a consequence, while public officials are working to protect the physical well-being of citizens, people are suffering in many other ways, which is being overlooked in the decision making.

Alongside McQueen, the panelists also included Dr. Tim Lau of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine, and Professor Douglas Farrow of McGill University.

To watch this discussion, visit “The Church, the State, and the Pandemic.”