Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Ministry in the Midst of Pandemic: A Survey of Lesotho Bishops

Click for: Full Report of Findings

Just how badly has the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Lesotho Catholic Church? And after taking such a hard hit financially, how can Lesotho bishops help parishes be “field hospitals” for the sick during a time of so much need?

According to a 2020 CARA survey, Lesotho’s four bishops report that their arch/dioceses, parishes, and Catholic schools have been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in the areas of the celebration of Baptisms, the morale of the lay ecclesial ministers, the ability of Catholic Charities to serve people in need, sacramental preparation, the celebration of First Communions, the celebration of Holy Thursday services, their own morale as the bishops, and the morale of the deacons. A lesser but still substantial proportion of dioceses report being greatly affected in the areas of the morale of the bishops’ staff at the LCBC, the morale of the priests, the morale of the staff at the diocese office, the celebration of Confirmations, the celebration of Marriages, and the celebration of Funerals in their dioceses.

To address these challenges, dioceses have enacted/issued guidelines for pastors and parishes encouraging parishioners to celebrate Mass by listening to radio broadcasts, have temporarily closed one or more Catholic elementary/high schools, and/or have temporarily closed one or more parishes temporarily. Moreover, parishes have been instructed to follow the ordinances of and guidance from the government concerning regulations for the pandemic, adapted the assessments parishes pay to their dioceses, and eliminated or curbed some diocesan programs,

How large of an impact has the pandemic had on Lesotho Catholic dioceses, parishes, and charitable organizations?

In Summer 2020, CARA visiting scholar, Sister Aloysia Makoae and CARA conducted a survey concerning how the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted Lesotho’s four arch/dioceses and their many parishes (Note: a survey of Lesotho parishes is also currently in the process of being conducted). This report provides the findings for the diocesan survey. The four bishops of Lesotho arch/dioceses responded, for an overall response rate of 100%.

Bishops were asked how significantly their dioceses were affected in a number of areas, with their responses summarized in Figures 1 and 2. The orange-portion of the bars below show the percentage of dioceses saying an area was “very affected,” with the blue-portion of the same bars showing those areas “somewhat affected.”

All of the areas displayed in Figure 1 have 75% to 100% of dioceses saying they were “very affected” by the pandemic; each also has more than three in four dioceses saying that area was “somewhat affected” and “very affected” combined. These areas shown in Figure 1 can best be characterized as parish sacramental celebrations, rites, preparation programs, morale at the parish and diocesan levels, and the church’s ability to minister to the needy.

Figure 2 shows those areas relatively less likely to be affected, which include the morale of staff at the LCBC, the morale of priests, the morale of the staff at the dioceses, the celebration of Confirmations, the celebration of Marriages and the celebration of Funerals. Note, however, that even among these areas, three-quarters or more are “somewhat affected” and “very affected” combined.

Examining just the “very affected” percentages in Figure 2, half of the bishops report that the morale of staff at LCBC, the morale of the staff at diocese, and the morale of priests have been strongly affected, with one-fourth saying the celebration of Confirmation, celebration of Marriages and celebration of Funerals have been “very affected.”

How have dioceses responded to the sacramental and financial difficulties posed by the pandemic?

In open-ended questions, bishops were asked to write in how their dioceses have been managing sacramental and financial difficulties. Concerning the sacramental issues facing parishes, bishops are most likely to mention issuing guidelines for pastors and parishes and having granted dispensations to parishioners from their obligation to attend weekly Mass. Most bishops also report having instructed their parishes to follow the ordinances of and guidance from the government and local officials in terms of gatherings (Note: This question was not directly asked on the survey, but was mentioned by many bishops in an open-ended response).

Concerning the financial health of both the diocese and its parishes, bishops wrote in that they are most worried about parishes not having their regular offertory collections, the financial health of parishioner households, paying parish and diocese staff members in the short- and long-run, and whether to cut back or eliminate existing diocesan programs.

Figure 3 below shows the findings for whether dioceses have either taken an action or are in process of deciding whether to take an action.

Four major ways that dioceses have been helping their parishes counter these financial difficulties are temporarily closing one or more Catholic elementary schools, temporarily closing one or more Catholic high schools, encouraging parishioners to celebrate Mass by listening to a radio broadcast, and closing one or more parishes. 

In addition, in a separate open-ended question, half of dioceses wrote in that they have adjusted the percentages that parishes pay to their dioceses in annual assessment fees. The other two dioceses say they have not modified the assessments.

What dioceses have been relatively less likely to consider is also of consequence: reducing the salary of some diocesan staff, eliminating one or more diocesan programs, suspending one or more diocesan programs, and laying off some diocesan staff (50%, 50%, 50%, and 25% respectively, have done so).

What does the future hold?
The pandemic is, of course, an ongoing phenomenon. As Lesotho dioceses take other actions as circumstances change, Sister Makoae and CARA hopes to provide summaries of those challenges and actions as well.

Click for: Full Report of Findings

Written by CARA Visiting Scholar Sr. Aloysia Sebueng Makoae, SNJM, and Jonathon L. Wiggins. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moore.

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