When a Bishop Plays Public-Health Bureaucrat

In a signed document explaining his “Rationale for a Diocesan Vaccination Covid-19 Policy,” Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London, Ontario, opens with a curious statement about the Church’s role:

Our Church must be mindful that we are a component of society, unique in our vocation, but similar in operation and exposure as many others.

Granted, from the perspective of a public-health official—that is, from the outside—the activities of the Church might seem similar to those of other institutions. However from the perspective of the Church—that is, from the inside—there is no comparison. But then, if you read the entire directive, you realize that for all practical purposes, Bishop Fabbro is writing as a public-health official.

And a combative public-health official at that. “Covid-19 is a clear and present threat to society,” the bishop writes. “It is not imaginary as some suggest…” I have not encountered anyone who thinks the disease is imaginary; that sort of straw-man argument is used only by people over-anxious to drive home their point. The question—as surely the bishop knows—is whether the extreme steps being taken in the name of public health are justified.

On that question, too, Bishop Fabbro has a clear answer: “We must operate under the premise that the potential for damage caused by Covid-19 means that the common good must prevail over individual rights for society to protect itself.” In the tradition of Catholic social teaching, individual rights are defined in terms of the common good, and vice versa. Individual rights must always be limited by the requirements of the common good. But to say that the common good should “prevail over” individual rights is to betray a strange understanding of what the “common good” actually means.

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