Ohio Priest: “Deepest Contempt” for “Cowardly” Priests amid Epidemic

Some readers may find this priest’s considerations to be uncharitable toward his brother clergy.

However, we publish them because his stated motivations were precisely the opposite, and because we believe that in this mushrooming crisis of ecclesiastical topsy-turvydom, it is worth carefully considering the thought of (even lesser-known) priests willing to publish about sacerdotal ministry in extreme times… particularly when said musings are permeated with that rare sensus Catholicus that we so desperately need to regain.

We therefore share the following brief excerpt from a talk by Fr. Fulgence Meyer, O.F.M., a missionary priest writing from Cincinnati, generally addressing Catholic married couples on the challenges of the married state.

The emphasis is ours, and a bit of unpacking follows:

This Life’s a Trial.

In every state of life and profession situations arise that test human virtue to the utmost and demand heroic self-denial. These situations are not at all peculiar to married life alone, but they occur in some form or other in the celibate life in the world as well as in the life of a Religious in the convent or of a priest of God.

What would you think of a priest for example, who would heartily enjoy all the honors, emoluments and privileges attached to his office: but when there was question of performing an arduous duty, say of risking his life to administer the Sacraments at the time of an epidemic, he would cravenly be found wanting? Would you not entertain the deepest contempt for so cowardly a character?

Why, then, do you not similarly despise yourself for enjoying unrestrainedly the privileges of holy matrimony, whilst you meanly and vilely shirk its sacred duties? Does something cease to be a duty no sooner it becomes difficult or rendition?

Doubtless you’ll have noticed some antiquated diction. Permit us some explanation.

Fr. Meyer’s Context

Fr. Meyer died in 1938. He wrote the above words shortly after an actual epidemic: the Spanish Influenza of 1918-19, which infected something like 500 million people and killed 50 million or more worldwide. 675,000 or more died in the USA, where Fr. Meyer served for many years.[1]

So, without even adventuring into the “Mass was suspended during the Spanish Flu, so there’s Precedent for Covid Cancel-Church!” claims, let’s peer into the basic Catholic assumptions that Fr. Meyer would have to have had to make back then, in order to write the foregoing:

  1. Fr. Meyer assumes that any Catholic priest worth his salt would regard the risk of his physical health during an epidemic to be a duty, such that shirking it would be “cravenly wanting.”
  2. Fr. Meyer assumes that Catholic layfolk would naturally hold “the deepest contempt for so cowardly a character” for a priest who would not administer the Sacraments during an epidemic.
  3. Fr. Meyer assumes that anyone would recognize and accept the truism that duties don’t cease to oblige as soon as they become difficult.

So… what happened?

Front row, third from left: Fr. Fulgence Meyer (1915)

[1] The above quotation is taken from Fr. Fulgence Meyer’s little book, Plain Talks on Marriage (1927). Ordained in 1900, Fr. Meyer wrote many articles and books during his years of active ministry, and served several missionary roles for the Third Order during his forty six years as a Friar. Requiescat in pace.

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