It’s certainly a fair question; plagues as a means of God’s judgement are well attested in scripture. When asked, however, many of our leaders in the Church have categorically denied that the pandemic is a punishment. How do they know? Apparently, it’s because God no longer punishes. Some examples:
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Bishops Conference (who was later infected with the virus):
If we thought of this situation as a punishment from God, we would betray the very essence of the gospel.
To call coronavirus as god’s punishment is cynical and incompatible with Jesus’ message.
I believe that this situation will lead to a change in convictions. Let us also hope that the fundamentalists will leave their theory that the pandemic is due to punishment from God or revenge.
Cardinal Angelo Scola:
Divine punishment does not exist.
The most remarkable comment came from the bishop of Fatima, Cardinal Antonio dos Santos Marto. Though the apparition of Mary in Fatima was primarily a warning of divine punishment, when asked about the pandemic he responded,
This is not Christian. Only those who do not have in their minds or hearts the true image of the God of Love and Mercy revealed in Christ, through ignorance, sectarian fanaticism or madness.
Church historian Roberto de Mattei has commented on these denials, and regards them as proof of divine punishment:
In reality, thinking that God does not send scourges makes someone not a pagan but an atheist. The fact that this is exactly what many bishops throughout the world think means that the Catholic episcopate throughout the world is immersed in atheism. And this is a sign of a divine chastisement that is already under way.
Scripture reminds that God has providence over all things; it doesn’t provide a quick answer but can at least help us to understand the question:
Good and evil, life and death, poverty and riches—all are from the LORD (Sirach 11:4).
…I am God, there is none like me. At the beginning I declare the outcome; from of old, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every desire (Isaiah 46:5;9-10).
Perhaps we should use the word “discipline” rather than “punishment”. As Christians, when we endure hardships we can remain hopeful:
Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:7).
Msgr. Charles Pope believed that the Church was experiencing a chastisement months before the outbreak of the pandemic, writing in Sept. 2019,
One thing is clear to me: we are under a period of pruning and punishment for our sins. Ten years ago, I had no idea the rot was so deep. It is so much worse than I ever thought then, and I am convinced we are going to see a lot more exposed in the next few years.
God has a greater purpose in having allowed the virus from Wuhan, China to spread internationally, perhaps to impel the beginning of a spiritual revival. Msgr. Pope poignantly concluded,
…Here in this chapel, in the Eucharistic Presence of the Groom, I await the renewal He will surely bring. I am aware that more purification may be needed first, and so I wait, I sigh, and I accept my share in the purifications.