Editorial: Bishops' plan for phased reopening of churches shows respect for data, community
As Chicago-area Catholic churches prepare to reopen to public worship on a phased-in program announced Wednesday, it is reassuring to see so many other suburban congregations committing to a slow, measured approach to reopening.
But that is not to suggest that the plan announced by the Chicago, Joliet and Rockford archdioceses is remotely rash. Indeed, religious congregations of any denomination or faith who see the Catholic churches as opening the door to a return to regular services should first examine carefully the structured program the archdioceses developed, then, above all, consider this sentence from a letter to parishioners by Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich: "The Plan has been developed by the bishops of the Chicago Province in consultation with and the approval of state and local public health officials and civil authorities."
Repeat: " ... in consultation with and the approval of state and local public health officials and civil authorities."
Unlike the leaders of an Elgin church who independently devised a plan they thought could be safe and then issued an ultimatum to government officials that they would open for business this Sunday, the bishops involved health and civil authorities in their planning and carefully constructed a timeline based on specific observable criteria and a clear set of guiding principles.
Key provisions of those principles included constant monitoring to avoid a second wave of infections and the recognition of a responsibility to look out for the "common good" beyond the confines of the church congregation.
"Any plan for reopening our churches for public worship must include every precaution to ensure public gatherings do not create a second wave of contagion, thus squandering the gains made through our sacrifice in these days," Cupich wrote.
Cupich emphasized that every stage of the planned reopening will be monitored in conjunction with health professionals and government leaders and "adjustments may be made based on data."
This is the kind of thinking that acknowledges the health risks of the general population and not merely the risk acceptance of a given set of individuals.
No reopening plan, whether for churches, businesses or public events, will ever be void of risk. But as we watch the COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to surge daily, we shudder to consider what things would look like today if we hadn't undertaken so many restrictions and safety precautions. It's comforting to find many agencies still viewing with caution the notion of returning to their usual activities. But any that would venture to resume operations ought to be able to prove they will do it responsibly, with respect for the health of the community at large and in conjunction with professionals and government officials who are responsible for the safety of all.