Rorate Caeli

Guest op-ed: Lockdowns, months later

During the first few weeks of the COVID lockdowns in the U.S. you may recall an excellent guest op-ed by a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  A half year later, with lockdowns -- or at least partial lockdowns -- still in place in many locations, we bring to you a follow-up piece by Father Naugle:


Social Justice of Lockdowns, Continued

By the Rev. Fr. John F. Naugle, M.A., S.T.B.

On April 20, my op-ed “The Ends Never Justify the Means: The Immorality of Indefinite Lockdowns" appeared on this web log as an attempt to trigger a much needed discussion about what the Church’s social doctrine has to say regarding the rights of laborers and how the indefinite lockdowns imposed by civil rulers represented an intrinsically evil course of action that could never be justified. It had been my hope that, as a result of this discussion, the Church’s sacred pastors would be roused from hiding in their residences to boldly defend the God-given right to earn bread for one’s family.

The basilica shrine in Washington, DC -- the largest church in North America --
still has a maximum legal capacity of 100 people.

Days and weeks went by. In the meantime, our malefactors in government and the media have implicitly admitted that they have no intention of returning our rights to us. Instead they have instructed us to completely forget our former lives and instead embrace the Orwellian “new normal.” My own governor, Tom Wolf, shockingly denied in federal court the existence of “any fundamental right to earn a living.” As I was beginning to despair that perhaps nobody else was willing to address the sinful economic damage being done to the working class, I came across these words in an interview published in an online magazine: “Yes, I think the lockdown is the worst assault on the working class in half a century, and especially on the urban working class.”

There was only one problem. I was not reading these words in a pastoral letter from a bishop. I was not reading these words in a Catholic journal. I was reading these words from a socialist magazine named in honor of the French Revolution political movement responsible for the Reign of Terror. The thought of socialists being bold enough to oppose what we have become accomplices in through silence and consent immediately turned my mind to God’s terrible judgement. 

The Church, in her repeated condemnation of all forms of socialism, has always put forth that it is the Bride of Christ who is actually the lover and defender of the worker and not the socialist revolutionary.  Her importance in the simultaneous fight against the evils of the Industrial Revolution on one side and the evils of socialist revolution on the other was cemented by the fact that her shepherds and her sheep were on the picket lines and also exerting their political will to bring worldly power into obedience to social doctrine. Indeed, beginning with Leo XIII, the assertion of a social doctrine was rightly understood to be a reclaiming of a “cross over crown” understanding of the relationship between the Church and the state. The Church has the right and obligation to pronounce moral judgement over nations in defense of the fundamental rights of man as contained in Divine Law. This claim can in no way be written off as belonging a pre-modern set of circumstances. We find it even in Gaudium et Spes: “It is only right, however, that at all times and in all places, the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to teach her social doctrine, to exercise her role freely among men, and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it” (GS 76). As we now are over 200 days into “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” where are the ecclesial condemnations of the lies we have been told? Where are the reproaches of the so-called “experts” whose predictions of doom have made the false prophets of Israel look reliable by comparison? Where are the decrees that our leaders have wickedly imposed restrictions forbidden by Natural Law and therefore the faithful are not obliged to obey them.

In my previous op-ed, I warned that consequentialist thinking is forbidden to the follower of Christ. So many of the counter arguments I have encountered basically boil down to the hysterical cry “But it’s a pandemic!” The absurdity of the hysteria is sufficiently laid bare by observing how frequently pandemics have arisen within the last century, but that is beside the point. The minute we start bickering about how Covid is less dangerous than seasonal flu for those under 45, we have taken the consequentialist bait. It is always evil to turn to a totalitarian revocation of fundamental human rights, regardless of how scared we happen to feel.

May we who are ordained hear the cries which rise to God demanding justice! The cries of the guardian angels of children who are being abused and neglected because adults are too scared to let them be children or go to school. The cries of young adults having the joy of their youth robbed from them along with the hope of being able to begin building their careers and vocations. The cries of workers who have lost their jobs. The cries of small business owners who have had their livelihood permanently ruined. The cries of those who have missed necessary medical treatments because of the irrational fear of a respiratory illness. The cries of the addict who has relapsed or of the suicide victims who gave in to despair. God hears them, even if we will not, but if we do not hear them we will most certainly hear them against us at the judgement.

Are we, who have spent hours of our lives reciting the commands of the King of Heaven to not be afraid as well as his warning that those who seek to save theirs lives will lose them, just going to smile at these brothers who suffer and repeat the words of the new civil religion: “Stay safe and stay home?” As the Holy Spirit once dispelled staying safe at home on Pentecost, may he light hearts on fire once again.