This Catholic Will Not Return to a Superspreader Church

3 mins read

​​I used to go to church, a Catholic one. I found the most social-justice-oriented, least dying-fetus-focused, multicultural church around, with an award-winning choir to boot, and I dragged in my complaining children weekly. But the pandemic hit, our pastor died of COVID-induced double pneumonia, and I have not darkened those doors since March 2020. 

With dwindling COVID rates, I now need to tend to my children’s religious upbringing and return to a spiritual home. That home will not be a Catholic one, however. The suit the Washington, DC, archdiocese brought against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2020, over mandatory attendance caps during the coronavirus, ensured that my family would serve the Lord at whatever Episcopalian or Lutheran church will have us. By forcing the local government to open places of worship 15 months before it was safe to do so, the Catholic Church sought to be a superspreader of a deadly disease. I will play no part in its immorality.

My concern about COVID-19 infection at religious services was not merely hypothetical. Our child care provider’s church reopened for Thanksgiving 2020, and she attended services wearing a mask and attempting to maintain six feet of distance from the crowd of other worshipers. On Nov. 30, she had a fever and did not report for work. On Dec. 1, she tested positive for COVID, as did her two children and her husband, who was hospitalized. She unknowingly passed her infection onto me, my husband, and my children, and we infected others.

By mid-December, the virus reached the last of my four children. My twins were born with holes in their hearts, neurological issues, and compromised respiratory systems, vestiges of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. COVID damages hearts, lungs, and brains, and my twins had few reserves for the coronavirus to take. My family spent 40 days in quarantine, and one child needed emergency cardiology care.

Threatened by the archdiocese’s lawsuit, our local government caved and allowed the churches to reopen for Christmas 2020. Catholics poured into the pews, aware of our doctrinal obligation to attend Mass. As the coronavirus mutated from alpha to delta to omicron, more people sickened and died from COVID. Those who sought to avoid infection, only to be subverted in their efforts, were the collateral damage of permitting in-person worship long before it was safe.

Goodbye, Catholic Church. My family survived COVID, and my children are long overdue for celebration of their First Communion and other sacraments. But we will find a new religious home, somewhere that supports public health.

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Genevieve Grabman is a policy and communications lead at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She previously served as director of Government Relations for Physicians for Reproductive Health. An attorney, she has worked for the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization. Grabman is author of The Technology Takers: Leading Change in the Digital Era. She lives in Washington, DC.

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