Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

“You don’t know; you’re learning.” My paternal grandpa would say, while cutting my hair as a youngster. He had a way of trimming my ego as well. He always kept me aware of the virtue of humility, especially if I wanted to be an important person someday. Loving learning, I was blessed — and am proud of it! — with excellent schooling in my formative years. Approaching Catholic Schools Week, I am full of gratitude for how much my life was shaped by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who educated me and my four siblings from kindergarten through grade 8 in Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School (Ridgewood, N.Y.), and the priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who exclusively formed the teaching staff of Cathedral High School, a preparatory seminary I attended in my teens. But how much about life I learned from grandpa!

Grandpa was perhaps my most practical mentor, having cut me my first earned paycheck when working for his firm, the Ecclesiastical Art Company, which outfitted newly named bishops in their “pontificals,” liturgical items they would need for their ordination, or “consecration,” as it was called pre-Vatican II: crozier, ring, pectoral cross, buskins. I even remember my grandma making miters on the dining room table. It was the family business.

During this year’s “March for Life” — the 49th! — I found myself remembering some of grandpa’s home-spun wisdom. Maybe it was the vast number of bright and passionate young people who participated, with all their questions and enthusiasm, that reminded me of my siblings and me at their age. They call themselves, many of them, the “post-Roe generation,” so much more articulate than those who report on them in their knowledge and understanding of the science, the law, Church teaching and the challenges of making tough choices in our sexually and emotionally dysphoric society, now so damaged by the scourges of a pandemic from which so much is still to be learned. They showed up, despite the cold and the severity of “house rules” imposed in the District of Columbia, where wristbands were imposed on them by regulators much older — though not necessarily wiser — if they wanted just to eat or drink together in public. What rules and restrictions have been endured by our younger people to make us older folk feel safer — and at such cost to them, maybe for generations!

Our youth have suffered severely from the devastating effects of pandemic lockdowns. I hear from families what many readers know firsthand. What could have been intuited with common sense from the outset — what, no doubt my grandfather might have called “uncommon sense” — we see confirmed now with statistics. Evidence of the social strife has accumulated for over two years now. I did my homework. Check them out.

Alcohol consumption among adults — both in frequency and volume — rose during the pandemic, despite lack of access to bars and restaurants where drinking would likely be more social than solitary. Among women, typically the less heavily drinking gender, a 41 percent increase in heavy drinking during the lockdowns has been recorded.

Homicides and aggravated assaults in early 2020, as reported by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), increased 30 percent. Incidents of domestic violence, as seen in emergency room visits alone, were up 8 percent, although the CCJ advises that this percentage only hints at the domestic dangers posed by increased solitary drinking, constant proximity to the perpetrator, amid economic strains. Yes, much is still to be accounted for in the fallout on children and young adults.

Young people also struggle with the loss of school routines and broader social supports, including parish and faith families. Some of them have been suffering from increasingly dangerous home lives. According to the CDC, emergency visits for adolescent suicide attempts soared in the summer and winter of 2020, in some months 50 percent over the prior year.

Illicit drug use is on the rise. From May 2020 through April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which also reports that fentanyl (not COVID-19) was the leading cause of death of Americans aged 18 to 45 years during this period. No abatement is seen or foreseen in 2022.

China is the primary manufacturer and source of fentanyl trafficked into the United States. With international travel limited during the lockdowns, the porous southern border had become the main smuggling route for Mexican cartels, which find fentanyl far more lucrative than other drugs. Fentanyl is smaller and more stable in transport, and sadly there are ample migrants, often children easily pressured to act as “mules” across the desert, avoiding scrutiny at points of entry. “During 2019 alone, the United States government seized enough fentanyl to give every American a lethal dose,” according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Was the price worth the safety promised from the regulations? Despite protections arguably provided from earlier strains of Sars-CoV-2, are vaccines sufficiently effective going forward to justify sweeping mandates — virtual apartheid of the non-vaccinated — as some still urge against increasing doubts of their effectiveness? Are we not paying a staggering social price for promises of safety that seems more illusory each day — if not delusional? Are we learning anything from experience about the limits of our control over natural processes, to wit, the progression of viral strains, dramatic at times, yet unpredictable? Can we honestly call “getting COVID,” that is, the Omicron strain, the same “COVID” as a year, or even months ago? Counting numbers without context, or analysis of their implications for recovery, mortality and susceptibility in relation to age, prior infection, pre-existing conditions — even vaccination status — seems hardly well-informed, or even honest.

We learn recently something experts have known much longer. On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, stated that over 75 percent of “COVID deaths” occurred in vaccinated people with at least four comorbidities. Indeed since 2020, the CDC have been at times reporting that the “COVID death” rate for people under 70 who do not have multiple comorbidities is under 1 percent of those persons who contract the disease and are symptomatic. It is impossible to track and quantify true numbers of asymptomatic persons. I keep hearing my grandfather say, “you don’t know; you’re learning.” It may help us all to remember that, for all the grief and finger-pointing, no one has the magic pill or the solution to this pandemic which seems to have a mind of its own. Lest the “the cure” prove worse than the disease, we might all do better to let any masks of self-righteousness down. Are any of us who “followed all the rules” better people or better off than those so bold as to question them? Enough already?