Coronavirus, today and tomorrow. Reflections on an emergency other than health care alone.

Dear Director,

I would like to thank you very much for having posted on the Observatory website the homily I gave at the Mass celebrated for the III Sunday of Lent in the Cathedral of San Giusto, and also the prayer to Our Lady of Health at the diocesan sanctuary of St. Mary Major.

In that homily I referred to the difficult and complicated situation we are now living due to the coronavirus pandemic, and said quite frankly that when it is over, nothing will be like it was before..

I have put together a few thoughts on this issue in the text I’m sending to you, and leave it up to you to decide on its possible posting on the Observatory website.

In any case, however, I do believe the Observatory, with its ever characteristic sensitivity and intelligence, should foster extensive and in-depth discussion on the issue of post coronavirus, since many and incisive indeed will be the challenges to be faced. Thank you for your attention, and may God bless you.

 +Giampaolo Crepaldi 

 

Nothing will be like it was before

The “COVID-19” pandemic is having an evidently forceful impact of many aspects and features of cohabitation and/or physical coexistence among persons, and hence also calls for an analysis from the viewpoint of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The virus infection is first of all a health related event, and this already links it directly with the ultimate aim of the common good. Good health is certainly part of this. At the same time, this raises the issue of the relationship between man and nature, urging us to overcome the naturalism so widespread nowadays and not forget that without the hand of man involved at all, nature also produces disasters, and that purely good and originally uncontaminated nature does not exist. Likewise arising is the issue of participation in the pursuit of the common good, and solidarity to this effect. On the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, this is a summons to deal with various forms of input on the part of political and social bodies to solve this serious problem and work for the reestablishment of normality when the crisis is over. It has become clearly evident that said input has to be articulated, convergent and coordinated. The funding of health care, an issue that the coronavirus crisis has made abundantly clear, is a core moral issue in the pursuit of the common good. Absolutely necessary is serious thought about the aims and purposes of the national health care system, its management and the use of resources, since a comparison with the recent past reveals a substantial decrease in the financing of health care personnel and facilities. Closely connected to the health care issue are outstanding questions related with economic concerns and social peace, since the pandemic constitutes a danger and a threat for both industrial and other economic activities. If the current lockdown continues in time, this will lead to bankruptcies, unemployment, poverty, hardships and social conflict. The world of labor will be subject to unprecedented upheavals, necessary will be new forms of support and solidarity, and drastic choices will have to be made. The economic issue evokes two related matters: credit and monetary policy. This, therefore, brings into the picture Italy’s relations with the European Union, dependent upon which are our country’s ultimate decisions in these two areas. In its turn, this once again brings to the surface both national sovereignty and globalization, making it necessary to revisit globalization understood as a globalist systemic machine that can also be very vulnerable due to its rigid and artificial internal workings. In other words, once a  crucial nerve center is hit, the systemic damages produced are generally widespread and difficult to resolve. Since the lower social levels no longer enjoy any real exercise of sovereignty, they will all be overwhelmed. Moreover, the coronavirus has highlighted the “closures” of countries, unable to really collaborate with one another even if they are all members of supranational institutions. Lastly, this pandemic has raised the issue of the common good’s relationship with the Catholic religion, as well as the matter of the relationship between State and Church. The ban on liturgical celebrations and the closing of churches are only two aspects of this broader problem area.

This would seem to be the overall picture of the problems raised by the coronavirus crisis. It is a matter of arguments that challenge the Social Doctrine of the Church, and, therefore our Observatory feels called to offer its input and urge additional contributions in this direction. Written in 2009 at the time of another crisis, Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in veritate affirmed the following: “The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.” (n. 21).

The end of ideological naturalism

Societies have been  – and still are – swept by various ideological forms of naturalism that the experience of this pandemic could well correct. The exaltation of a pure and originally uncontaminated nature where man would be the polluter couldn’t hold water, and all the more so doesn’t today. The idea of a Mother Earth originally endowed with a harmonious equilibrium of its own, with which the spirit of man should bond in order to discover the right relationship with things and with himself is a stupidity that this experience could dispel. Nature has to be governed by man, and the new post-modern pantheistic ideologies (and not only them) are inhuman ideologies. In the naturalistic sense of the term, nature also produces lacks of equilibrium and illnesses, and for this reason must be humanized. It’s not man who has to be ‘nature-ized’, but nature which has to be “human-ized.

Revelation teaches us that created reality has been entrusted to the care and governance of man with a view to the ultimate end which is God. Insofar as his duty, man has the right to manage material creation, governing it and drawing there from what is necessary and useful for the common good. Created reality has been entrusted by God to man, to his reasonable workings, and to his skills of sage dominion. Man is the regulator of created reality, not the other way around.

The two meanings of the word “Salus”

The word “Salus” means health in the medical sense of the term, and also means salvation in the ethical-spiritual and especially religious sense. The current coronavirus experience illustrates once again that the two meanings are interconnected. Threats to physical health lead to changes in attitudes, ways of thinking, and values to be pursued. They put the moral reference system of society at large to a serious test. They call for ethically sound forms of behavior, denounce egoistic, disinterested and indifferent attitudes, and as well as any exploitation. They reveal forms of heroism in the joint battle against virus infection, as well as forms of plundering on the part of those who take advantage of the situation. The battle against infection requires a moral regrouping of society as regards sound, supportive and respectful forms of conduct, and this is perhaps more important than the regrouping of resources. The challenge to physical health in therefore related to the challenge to moral health. Needed is some serious rethinking about our society’s immoral deviations on all levels. Natural disasters are quite often not entirely natural, having some of man’s morally chaotic attitudes behind them. The actual origin of COVID-19 has yet to be determined, and could well end up being other than nature-related in origin. Even if its origin is purely natural, its social impact brings community ethics into the picture. The response neither is nor will be scientific or technical alone, and will have to be moral as well. After science and technology, the grave and unforeseen event of coronavirus should revive public morals on new and solid bases.

Participation in the common good

Ethical participation is called for insofar  as what is at stake is the common good. This pandemic contradicts all those who have argued that the common good does not exist, just like any other moral end. Were this the case, why would so many people be working so hard and waging this battle both inside and outside institutions? To what sort of commitment would citizens be summoned by lockdowns and the like if it were not a moral commitment for the common good? What are the grounds for saying that certain forms of conduct are now “right and proper”? Contradicted by a factual situation are those who denied the selfsame existence of the common good, or entrusted the pursuit thereof to technology alone, but not to any moral engagement for good. The common good tells us that good health is a good we must all promote. The common good tells us that the word Salus has two meanings.

Will this coronavirus experience be mentally processed enough to the point of being able to deepen and expand the concept of the common good? While the battle to save the lives of so many people continues, abortions also continue, abortion pills continue to be sold, euthanasia continues to be practiced, and the sacrifice of human embryos continues,  along with so many other practices against life and the family. If the common good and the need for choral participation to that end in the area of the battle against the pandemic are discovered anew, people should have the courage and the willingness to extend the concept to where it must naturally be extended.

Subsidiarity in the battle for good health

The mobilization underway against COVID-19 has involved the participation of different levels, at times coordinated, and at other times less so. Different are the tasks performed at each level according to its own responsibility. Once the storm is over, this will make it possible to revisit what didn’t work as it should have in the subsidiary chain, and focus once again on the important principle of subsidiarity in order to apply it better and everywhere it can be applied. There is one experience in particular that must be capitalized upon: subsidiarity must be “for”, and not defense “from”; it must be for the common good, and therefore must have an ethical basis, not just a political or functional basis. An ethical foundation based on the natural and finalistic order of social life. This is an excellent occasion to abandon the conventional visions of social values and ends.

An important element now being highlighted by the COVID-19 emergency is the subsidiary role of credit. The lockdown of broad sectors of the economy in order to guarantee a greater degree of personal health safety and curtail the transmission of the virus are throwing companies and families into sheer crisis, especially in terms of cash flow. Hypothetically looming on the horizon if the crisis were to last for some time would be the interruption of production-consumption cycles, and hence the phantom of unemployment. The role of credit can be fundamental in the face of such needs, and the financial system could atone for so much reprehensible and biased squandering in the recent past.

Sovereignty and globalization

The coronavirus experience now under way makes it necessary to take a new look at the two concepts of globalization and national sovereignty. There is a globalization that understands the entire planet as a “system” of rigid linkages and dovetailing pieces, an artificial construct governed by those empowered to push buttons, a series of apparently indestructible communicating vessels. Such a notion, however, has also revealed its weakness, because it suffices to hit one point of the system and thereby create a domino effect. The pandemic can trigger a crisis in the health care system and lockdowns have the same crisis effect on the productive system. The latter make the whole economic system collapse; poverty and unemployment make it impossible to nourish the credit system; the weakening of the population exposes it to new epidemics, and on down the line in a series of vicious circles covering the whole planet. Up until the very recent past, globalization showed off its splendors and glories of perfect technical-functional capability, indisputable arrogance regarding the obsolescence of States and nations, and the absolute value of the “open society”: a single world, a single religion, a single universal morality, a single ‘global’ people, a single world authority. Then, however, all it took was a virus to bring down the whole system, since the non global levels of the responses were no longer interconnected. The experience we are living warns us against an “open society” understood in this way, because it places power in no more than a few hands, and an equal number of few hands could make it collapse as quickly as a castle of cards. This does not mean denying the importance of the international collaboration that pandemics require, but such collaboration has nothing to do with collective, mechanical, automatic and systemic structures.

The coronavirus induced demise of the European Union

The current COVID-19 experience has projected the image of a European Union once again divided and elusive. The member States have been engaged more in egoistic disputes than in collaboration. Italy has remained isolated and left all on its own. The European Commission took too little action too late, and the European Central Bank didn’t do things in the right way. Faced with the pandemic, each member State withdrew into self-closure. Considering the resources needed to cope with the emergency situation, at other times Italy, for example, could have handled things on its own by devaluing its currency, but said resources now depend on the decisions of the European Union, before which all shall prostrate.

COVID-19 has definitively revealed the artificial nature of the European Union which cannot even ensure collaboration among its member States, over which it has been superimposed by virtue of the acquisition of sovereignty. The lack of the moral bond has not been compensated for by the institutional and political bond. It is  necessary to take note of this inglorious COVID-19 induced end of the European Union, and consider how collaboration among the European states in the battle for health care is also possible outside supranational political institutions.

The State and the Church

As we have already seen, the word Salus means salvation, not only health. As martyrs have taught us, health is not salvation, but in a certain sense salvation gives health as well. The proper unfolding of social life, with its beneficial effects on health as well, also needs the salvation promised by religion: “Man does not develop through his own powers. . .” (Caritas in veritate, 11).

The common good is moral in nature, and, as indicated above, this crisis should lead to the rediscovery of this dimension. What is moral, however, does not live of its own life since it is unable to be the ultimate foundation of itself. Arising here is the problem of the essential relationship that political life has with religion; that relationship which is the best guarantee of the truth of political life. As is now happening with the pandemic under way, political authority weakens the battle against this evil when it equates Eucharistic Celebrations to recreational activities, thinking they have to be banned, and this perhaps even before banning other forms of social togetherness that are undoubtedly less important. The Church as well may be wrong when it refrains from asserting the public need for the celebration of the Eucharist and the opening of churches, with a view towards the completeness of the genuine common good. The Church contributes to the battle against the pandemic with the various forms of assistance, aid, and solidarity it provides with utmost competence, just as it has always done in similar cases in the past. It is necessary, however, to keep attention ever focused on the religious dimension of its contribution in order to make sure this is not considered a mere expression of civil society. This is why there is special value in what Pope Francis said when beseeching the Holy Spirit to give “pastors both the ability and the pastoral discernment so they may adopt measures that do not leave the holy and faithful people of God all on their own. May the people of God feel accompanied by pastors and the comfort of the Word of God, the sacraments, and prayer”, naturally with the common sense and prudence that the current situation requires.

This coronavirus emergency can be lived by everyone “as if God did not exist”. In this case, a similar vision of things will just continue to be applied when the next phase begins after the emergency as such is over . Forgotten in this way, however, will be the connection between physical health and moral-religious health that this dire emergency has brought to the surface. Conversely, if people feel the need to once again acknowledge God’s place in the world, relations between politics and religion, and between the State and the Church will also be able to embark upon the right road.

The emergency nature of the pandemic under way calls the Social Doctrine of the Church into the picture very deeply indeed. This social doctrine is a patrimony of faith and reason that can be of great assistance during the battle against this viral infection at this precise moment in time, and this battle must concern and involve all the grades and ambits of social and political life. Above all, this doctrine can provide assistance with a view to the post-coronavirus phase. What is needed is a overall gaze that encompasses any and all truly important perspectives. Social life requires consistency and synthesis, especially during difficulties, and this is the reason why during difficult times, men and women who know how to peer in depth and gaze on high are able to find solutions, and even occasions for improving things compared with the past.

+ Giampaolo Crepaldi

 

These reflections offered by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi are endorsed by the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân and the National Committee of Justice and Peace for the Social Doctrine of the Church, and constitute the grounds for a commitment to undertake and develop serious reflection about the emergency under way, and especially about the post-coronavirus phase, doing so in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church.