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A Catholic bishop in Canada is requiring that anyone who wishes to attend Mass must be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
Archbishop Valery Vienneau of the Archdiocese of Moncton, New Brunswick, said in a statement last week that the archdiocese is taking steps to help the provincial ministry of health try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, especially the Delta variant, which is said to be more highly contagious.
“Beginning Wednesday September 22, at any gathering inside our churches, rectories or community centers under our supervision, those present must be doubly vaccinated,” the archbishop said in a September 17 statement. “By gatherings we mean: religious celebrations (Sunday and weekly Masses, prayer meetings, baptisms, weddings and funerals, Confirmation, First Reconciliation, First Communion), parish and pastoral meetings, catechesis meetings, management meetings, conferences, workshops, fraternal and social meetings, bingos, card games, etc.”
The requirement applies to priests, lay ministers, members of choirs, volunteers, the faithful and other participants, as well as family members or close friends at baptisms, weddings, or funerals, the archbishop said. “Young people under the age of 12 are naturally exempted by this measure, as they cannot currently be vaccinated,” he stated.
Moncton appears to be the first Catholic diocese to require vaccination of Mass-goers. On Monday, the Vatican said it will require all visitors and personnel to show a COVID-19 pass proving they have been vaccinated, have recovered from the coronavirus, or have tested negative for the disease in order to enter the city state beginning Oct. 1. But those coming solely to attend Mass are exempt.
In churches in the United States, there are various regulations, some requiring facial masks for the unvaccinated, and requests that anyone not feeling well or experiencing a high temperature stay home.
In Australia, one archbishop has made it clear that anyone, even those who are not yet vaccinated, are welcome in church. On September 9, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, said that he’s had discussions with the New South Wales Government and NSW Health ministry, where places of worship are still closed.
“I joined other religious leaders in insisting that worship is an essential service, not mere recreation for many people,” Archbishop Fisher said on his Facebook page. “We explained that all our faiths are inclined to allow all comers to worship, that many pastors and faithful would be uneasy with restricting worship to the fully vaccinated, and that doing so could prove very divisive. … Race, gender, ethnicity, age, education, wealth or health status (including vaccination) must not be points of division within the Christian community or barriers to communion with Christ Jesus.”
“Counting on our cooperation”
Archbishop Vienneau’s directive, then, which following a meeting of religious leaders in New Brunswick with the provincial Minister of Health, Dorothy Shephard, looks quite radical.
“While explaining new guidelines, [Shephard] indicated that they had only one goal: to increase the rate of people fully vaccinated in the province (two doses),” Vienneau wrote. “Vaccination remains the best way to counter the spread of the Delta virus and protect the population (especially the unvaccinated). The government is looking for a vaccination rate of around 90%. The minister made it clear to us that she does not require masks, sanitizing, or social distancing at our gatherings. These measures remain at the discretion of individuals.
“Instead, she wishes to have gatherings of fully vaccinated people to keep people safe and to act as an incentive for the unvaccinated,” said the archbishop. “That is why going back to past health measures (mask, sanitizing, and social distancing) as a way to include unvaccinated people at our gatherings is not the measure promoted by the government.”
The statement said that beginning next weekend, volunteers will be at church entrances to check documents showing attendees’ vaccination record and adding such persons’ names to a list. On subsequent occasions, the list will inform volunteers about whom to admit, and only newcomers will have to show proof of vaccination.
The list of vaccinated Massgoers “may eventually be requested by the government,” Vienneau said in the statement.
“For catechesis with children, we follow the rules in force in schools,” the archbishop continued. “For the safety of young people, catechists should be fully vaccinated. When parents (or another adult) attend the meetings, they will of course have to be doubly vaccinated.”
For parish employees, he added, “it is highly desirable that they be fully vaccinated. However, if this is not the case, they will have to wear a mask at all times and undergo a COVID test periodically according to government policy.”
Anyone who comes to the parish offices for information or service should be welcomed, he said, but if a visitor is not vaccinated, he could be asked to wear a mask.
“Can we still accept a person who is not vaccinated or has a single dose inside our facilities for a celebration or a meeting? Even with a mask and social distancing?” the archbishop asked. “The minister said ‘no’ unless she had proof of exemption, which is rare.”
“We ask you to implement these new measures in each of your Christian communities not only to respect the government’s request but above all to help stop the spread of the virus among our population,” Archbishop Vienneau concluded. “We would not want one of our places of worship to be the location of a COVID exposure due to our negligence. The Minister of Health is counting on our cooperation.”
Aleteia reached out to the Archdiocese of Moncton for clarification.