“How do we save those every year? Let's not drive. Let's close down our highways, don't get in your car,” Bishop Paprocki said.
“We wouldn't do that, because people need to get to work, to school, and other obligations. So what do we do? We don't throw caution to the wind. We take precautions, like seat belts and air bags, and you follow the rules of the road; and if you do that, there's much greater likelihood you won't die in an auto accident, but that's not an absolute guarantee. There are no absolute guarantees in life.”
If this principle of the distinction between extraordinary and ordinary means “applies to individuals, why doesn't it apply to our society as well?” he asked. “And I would argue that it should.”
“When you've got politicians, for example governors and other government leaders, making decisions about shutting things down, I'm not questioning their motivation – it's a good motivation, they're trying to save life, and that’s a good thing – but I'm trying to add a little bit more of a moral analysis to that conversation.”
“It's not that simple to say we have to do everything to save every life possible, because we just don't do that, that's not possible. Instead we take ordinary means, and that's what I'm hoping to contribute to the conversation here.”
The bishop said he is “anticipating that this whole question will come up again,” and he noted that Israel has begun a second lockdown because of coronavirus, which will last three weeks. The country was also locked down from late March to early May.
“In the US if we have another wave of Covid, or even a very severe flu, are we going to lock everything down again?” Bishop Paprocki asked.
“I would be arguing that morally, we don't have to. If someone voluntarily says, 'you know what, it's not safe out there, I'm not going out', fine, that's your decision; but in terms of the government ordering everything to be shut down, I just don't think that's morally required.”
The bishop said he has heard anecdotally that numerous people “are thinking along these lines, but they don't know exactly how to articulate it … people are making this analysis in their own minds that there are a lot of different factors that we have to weigh here, and so what I'm trying to do here is add some vocabulary from our Catholic moral tradition that perhaps could help this conversation.”
In his essay, he cited a July broadcast of NBC Nightly News in which five pediatricians “unanimously and emphatically agreed that the benefits of children’s being back at school outweigh the risks.”
Parents, teachers, and students, he said, have told him they're “very happy to be back in school”; Catholic schools in the diocese, and across Illinois, have reopened. “I'm hearing from people saying it's more important, even if there is some risk … we're weighing the burdens and the benefits here. There is some risk there for the spread of Covid. On the other hand, what's the risk to children if we shut down their education?”
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“When I'm saying that shutdowns are extraordinary means, I'm certainly not disregarding the importance of doing what we can to save life, to help people who are sick, to try and deal with the threat of Covid,” Bishop Paprocki emphasized.
“My background in healthcare says to me that these are complicated decisions, but we also have very nuanced ways of trying to look at them and trying to analyse them.”
The bishop comes from a family of pharmacists, with four generations in the business; he is also vice-president of the Illinois Catholic Health Association, and while a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago he served as Liaison for Health and Hospital Affairs.
He also addressed the balance of concerns for the elderly, vulnerable as they are to the coronavirus.
“We're taking steps to make sure the elderly don't get sick, and don't contract Covid, and that's a very important factor, because they're a higher risk group, and more vulnerable than young people; on the other hand, their physical well being, as important as it is, is not the only concern.”
The bishop had related in his essay that his aunt, Marian Jacobs, had her 102nd birthday in March. She would normally celebrate with her family, but was barred from doing so. “Indeed with very limited family visits since March, she has declined rapidly and has been moved from her apartment to assisted living,” he wrote.
“The elderly, they need to be with people, with family, they need social interactions, as much as anybody does,” he told CNA. “And so there we have to try to strike a balance between keeping them physically safe, and at the same time allowing them to be happy. As I wrote in my article, I'm more afraid that my aunt's going to die of a broken heart than she will of Covid.”