BALTIMORE — When Msgr. Richard Woy sees Dr. Robert Redfield on
television these days flanked by medical experts issuing the latest
guidance on the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, he doesn’t just see one of
the top health officials in the U.S., he sees one of the faithful.
Woy, rector of Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, said when he
met Redfield and his wife, Joyce, “they had been active parishioners
here for decades.”
Redfield is the director of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. As he helps lead the federal response to
the growing threat of coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19,
his pastor and friends say his years of work studying viruses along with
his deep Catholic faith will help guide the country through the crisis.
Redfield is not shy about his Catholic faith. And I think it does not
compromise in any way his work as a scientist,” Msgr. Woy told the
Catholic Review, the media outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. “I do
not believe he sees any contradiction between the two whatsoever.”
they are spending most of their time in Atlanta, where the CDC is
based, Msgr. Woy said the Redfields have returned to Baltimore on
weekends and attended Masses at the cathedral in February, serving as
extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
Although Redfield was
unavailable for an interview, he said in a statement that the faith
community will play an important role as the pandemic continues.
the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori has closed
Catholic schools, issued a dispensation for Mass attendance and taken
other measures to limit the spread of the disease. On March 14, the
archbishop canceled all public Masses “until further notice.”
have witnessed firsthand the impact of the faith community’s work in
global disease outbreaks,” Redfield said in his statement. “The same
compassion, counsel and care will be just as important as we confront
this new virus and as many Americans and others around the world
experience disruption in their daily lives.”
He added, “The faith
community has always stepped in to enhance response efforts where our
public health and clinical settings lack the capacity or expertise to
comfort patients, families and whole communities.”
to prominence during the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. As a
military doctor serving at what was then the Walter Reed Army Medical
Center in Washington, he was the first to establish that the disease was
not limited to gay men. In 1996, he founded the University of
Maryland’s prestigious Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore with his
colleagues Dr. William Blattner and Dr. Robert Gallo.
magnificent credentials in public health. He was the first to develop a
classification for AIDS and HIV, the Walter Reed classification, and was
published in New England Journal (of Medicine),” Blattner said. “He
spearheaded the development of treatment regimens that were more
reliable than the original treatments that were being rolled out.”
said he and Redfield participated in one of the first conferences on
HIV/AIDS with St. John Paul II, then pope, in the late 1980s.
2011, Redfield worked with Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services in
Haiti to help treat those injured by a devastating earthquake. With the
University of Maryland, Redfield had also been active in Haiti to stop
the spread of HIV/AIDS, mirroring his earlier work with the U.S.
government in Africa.
Blattner praised the CDC’s response to the
coronavirus pandemic thus far, saying the decision to ban travel from
China, where the virus originated, bought the country valuable time.
Redfield was on top of this. I mean, as soon as there was a sniff of
something going on, they were on it in terms of what was going on over
there. And then rapidly started to develop strategies,” Blattner told
the Catholic Review.
He noted that the highly publicized problems
with COVID-19 testing kits were an early setback, but he said the
components are fairly sophisticated and viewed it as a short-term
However, Redfield is not without controversy; many public health advocates questioned his appointment to the CDC in 2018.
attributed the opposition to politics. He said unlike many scientists,
Redfield is staunchly opposed to abortion and favors abstinence over
birth control measures such as condoms to stop sexually transmitted
infections such as HIV.
“Whenever you’re a high-profile person and
you have a strong face and you have strong political leanings that are
pro-life and so on and so forth, you are going to come under attack,”
Redfield joined other top health officials in
pushing back against some misleading information from congressional
Republicans and President Donald Trump.
On March 11 during a
hearing on Capitol Hill, he publicly disagreed with some members of
Congress and media personalities who have attempted to label COVID-19 as
the “Chinese coronavirus.”
He also said physical borders such as a
wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico would not stop the
spread of the virus, which had been implied by Trump in a recent Tweet.
who also is a Catholic and is a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica
of St. Augustine in Florida, said faith in God has grounded his and
“I think that humility is an important gift that
we’re given. And when you’re dealing with this kind of situation, having
humility helps one to allow all of the gifted people to be able to be
heard and to bring their expertise to the table,” Blattner said.