How We Must Consider ‘Reopening’
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
For the last several weeks, there’ve been increasing discussions about reopening some of what’s been closed during the pandemic. Naturally, any such plans have to be cautious and incremental so as to avoid possibly making things worse in either the short or long term. They also have to be flexible to deal with changing circumstances. It’s all very complicated and confusing given the variables and unknowns. Nevertheless, plans are moving forward. 
In the midst of all this, a question about the ethics of “reopening” has been raised. Basically, it could be framed like this: Is it ethical to begin reopening things now knowing that doing so will likely cause new cases of the virus? Or, would it be better to wait longer hoping there may be fewer new cases the longer we wait? Even if closure means continuing some of the serious social and economic hardships already affecting so many?
This poses a very real ethical dilemma. On the one hand, the sooner things begin to reopen, the sooner people who have been so negatively impacted economically can begin to recover and rebuild — or at least attempt to. Likewise, there will certainly be psychological and spiritual benefits for many people as things begin to recover. 
 On the other hand, those benefits may come at the expense of some citizens who have been, and continue to be, the most vulnerable — especially in terms of their physical health. Not to mention those working in health care who may continue to be at increased risk for an even longer period of time because of the effects of reopening sooner rather than later.
Where does one begin with an analysis of such a predicament? For us as Catholics, there are several parts of our moral and social teaching that we could look to as starting points. We also have to realize, before we do that, that there will be risks associated with this virus for a long time to come. That seems unavoidable. And therefore, trying to eliminate all risk before beginning the reopening process is unrealistic. With that in mind, what parts of our Catholic moral tradition might offer some useful guidance?
I would like to highlight just two here.
The first comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s explanation of the Seventh Commandment. (Some of this was covered in a previous article.) In that section, the catechism reminds us that economics is supposed to serve humanity, not the other way around. And that means serving the good of all — not just the few. Therefore, the lens which the Church asks us to view such considerations is that of the ultimate good of humanity. 
Human beings should never be sacrificed or seen in anyway as expendable in the pursuit of a stronger economy. More on this can be found in paragraphs 2423-2425 of the catechism. While these paragraphs don’t speak directly to the situation we’re facing, they nevertheless offer some important guidance.
The second part of Catholic teaching that provides us with some insight comes from one of the themes     of the social doctrine of the Church. Specifically, they teach us of “the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.” 
This theme reminds us of the need to consider carefully how social and economic decisions affect those most at risk — whatever form of risk that is. In the current situation that certainly means those most vulnerable to the physical effects of the virus. But it also would include those who are being affected most severely economically. Both of those considerations would have to be weighed very prudently in making decisions regarding reopening. 
As we can see, there are no easy answers. While these two parts of Catholic teaching provide us with some important considerations, they don’t answer all the questions about how to proceed. 
This is a good reminder that praying for those given the task of making such decisions is something that each of can and should do in the meantime.