As medical experts and government officials worldwide urge greater social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, perjuring priest Bob Malm continues true to form, holding services at St. Gabriel’s Marion anyway. The move comes despite the fact that Malm and many in his parish are at high risk due to age and other factors.
To be clear, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has taken a largely hands-off approach to the issue, placing responsibility in the hands of local churches. But as I have discussed elsewhere, that decision is problematic, for it sidesteps one of the very reasons to have a bishop, which is to make choices in the best interest of the church as a whole. This is particularly the case when, as here, there will be strong feelings with parishes on all sides of specific issues. In short, there are times when it is best for bishops to take local clergy out of the line of fire.
Complicating the situation at St. Gabriel’s is Bob Malm’s tendency to view himself as invincible. Malm himself noted this trait following his accident in which he broke his neck, but I have seen no evidence to suggest that this aspect of his personality, often seen in those with narcissistic personality disorder, has diminished over time.
There are larger issues at play. As a priest, Bob’s first priority should be the wellbeing of his parish. In that respect, his decision to hold services as usual was a profound moral failure. While attendance at St. Gabriel’s was sparse, many attendees were 65+ and thus at elevated risk of death due to COVID-19.
Nor were adequate safeguards implemented. While changes were made to the service to prevent physical contact and shared communion, many in the congregation, altar party and choir were in close physical proximity to others.
With the primary route of transmission the distribution of bodily fluids via coughing and sneezing, many in the congregation were one good sneeze away from potential exposure. Thus, the situation mirrors that of Christ Church Georgetown, where the rector was careful to use hand sanitizer and to otherwise take steps to protect parishioners. Yet despite these precautions, more than 550 people are now in quarantine.
The breadth of the Christ Church quarantine underscores another ethical aspect of Malm’s conduct, which is that it implicates others beyond those sitting in the pews. Specifically, if exposure occurs, each person who returns home potentially spreads the virus to dozens of others in supermarkets, movie theaters, restaurants and more. Nor does Bob’s conduct inspire ethical conduct; folks likely will conclude that if it’s safe to go to church, it is safe to go out to dinner, the movies, etc.
In the midst of the pandemic, all involved need to put aside perceived self-interest and act for the greater good. That means doing everything possible to limit interaction with others, to reduce risk, and to protect against this most serious threat. The risk is particularly high in Massachusetts, which has a large number of cases. Moreover, many are carrying the virus but are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, and thus are unknowingly spreading the disease.
If clergy like Bob Malm aren’t prepared to lead the way, why should we think that others will do what is necessary to protect our communities? And what excuse will Malm and others give if members of the congregation do get sick and die from exposure at the church?
Yet another sad example of Bob Malm’s lack of moral leadership.