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Priest who said people are 'cowering in fear' of coronavirus contracts COVID-19

"Somewhere along the line, we have to accept the fact that, I think we live in a world that is risky," Monsignor Charles Pope said in a video statement.
Msgr. Charles Pope / YouTube

A Roman Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., who said people "are cowering in fear" of the coronavirus has been diagnosed with COVID-19, prompting local health officials to instruct some parishioners to quarantine.

Monsignor Charles Pope of Holy Comforter St. Cyprian Catholic Church was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, last Monday, the church said in a statement last week.

The church said Pope "self-reported" that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and is "recuperating and getting better each day."

For the next two weeks, the church said, he and the other priests and seminarian that live in the rectory will be self-isolating as a precaution. The church will also be deep-cleaned.

In a video statement released Saturday, Pope said he went to an urgent care last week after he lost his appetite and had a fever of 102 degrees.

He said that when he learned of his diagnosis, he wept because he was afraid of how many lives it would affect.

"When you're a priest, you literally and figuratively touch hundreds of lives and I could see all the dominoes falling," he said. "And everybody in the rectory would have to quarantine. I could see huge numbers."

Pope said that he had followed all of the protocols required of him during services, such as wearing a mask, using alcohol to sanitize his hands and adhering to social distancing. He said he is unsure how he contracted the coronavirus and that he is getting better.

In the video recorded Saturday evening, Pope apologized to parishioners and said he was "so desperately sad" that the church would have to be shuttered for two weeks. "That causes me the greatest pain," he said.

He also criticized protocols that have been imposed across the U.S. to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"You've heard me say this before, somewhere along the line, we have to accept the fact, that I think we live in a world that is risky," Pope said in the video, adding that he has preached this and written about it in the National Catholic Register.

"We can take necessary and prudent precautions, but we'll never completely be able to prevent ourselves from catching a disease," he continued. "Even one that will eventually kill us. We're all headed at some point for the tomb."

In an online blog post published July 18 by the National Catholic Register, Pope expressed concern "that we as a nation and as a Church have succumbed to excessive fear, which bespeaks a spiritual problem."

"The medical concerns arising from the pandemic are not without merit, but they are not unprecedented," he wrote. "What is unique today is the collective paralysis brought on by this fear."

He added: "While we could not recklessly disregard civil ordinances, too many of us were content to hunker down and forego public Mass. We would not utter the biblical cry, 'Do not be afraid,' out of fear of being called insensitive or irresponsible."

Pope wrote that "prudence has its place," but his concern as a pastor and "physician of souls is that we are allowing unrelenting fear to drive our response."

"Until we as the Church confronting the situation and 'man up' as Christians should, fear will masquerade as prudence, and folks like me who question whether we've gone too far will be called irresponsible and even reprehensible," he wrote in the National Catholic Register.

The director of the District of Columbia's health department, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, said in a letter issued Friday that parishioners who received communion at the church during certain services from July 25 to July 27 were exposed to the virus and should quarantine for 14 days.

"DC Health is continuing to work with church leadership to ensure that the guidance and best practices are followed to minimize the risk of COVID-19 among attendees," Nesbitt wrote.