As the rate of Covid cases and deaths has risen in North America over the past two months due to a surge caused by the Delta variant, different groups of Catholics seem to hold diametrically opposed views of how to respond to the pandemic.
Archbishop Valery Vienneau of the Archdiocese of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada, has implemented a vaccine mandate for all Catholics, beginning September 22. Following a meeting with the provincial Minister of Health and religious leaders of the province, the archbishop decided that anyone present at any Church-sponsored gathering must be fully vaccinated. The archbishop explained, “By those present we mean: priests, lay ministers, members of choirs, volunteers, the faithful and other participants. This also applies to family members or close friends at baptisms, weddings, or funerals. Young people under the age of 12 are naturally exempted by this measure, as they cannot currently be vaccinated.”
The reason for this measure was the province government’s determination that “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%.” Apparently it has been determined that the vaccination is the most effective way to stop the spread of the pandemic, and this is a way to avoid other measures: social distancing, masks, and spacing requirements. Many have complained that this is unfair discrimination, however the alternative seems to be limiting Mass attendance capacity, so this is quite possibly the best way to have the most people attend Mass.
The Vatican, meanwhile, has put forth its own restriction, beginning October 1. Claire Giangravé of Religion News Service reports, “To enter Vatican City, people will have to present a Green Pass, the certification used in Italy to avoid the spread of the pandemic, or any international equivalent. The decision was announced on Monday (Sept. 20) and signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and president of the Governorate of Vatican City State.”
According to the decree, the decision was made at a September 7 audience between Pope Francis and Cardinal Bertello. The document includes an exception “for those who participate in the liturgical celebrations for the time that is strictly necessary to perform the rite.” The document stated that in making this decision for on behalf of the people who work and visit Vatican City, Pope Francis was affirming “the need to ensure the health and well-being of the working community while respecting the dignity, rights, and fundamental freedoms of each of its members.”
On the other end of the spectrum, an organization called the Confraternity of Our Lady of Fatima is issuing what it calls a “Religious Exemption to Abortion-Tainted Vaccines” signed by Athanasius Schneider, the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan. It says, “You can join the Confraternity by filling out the form and a personalized certificate with his signature will be emailed to you within one business day. He is offering it to you as a statement that you are a member of a Catholic organization, namely the Confraternity of Our Lady of Fatima, that holds that abortion-tainted vaccines are gravely immoral.” Besides the obvious contradiction with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, one wonders if these “religious exemptions” will be taken seriously by any organizations. With many dioceses in the US refusing to offer such exemptions (because the Catholic Church does not hold that getting the vaccine is immoral, but rather serves the common good), it’s possible that some Catholics will attempt to use these instead.
Somewhere in the middle is St. Joseph’s, a parish in Tacoma, Washington, run by the traditionalist Fraternal Society of St. Peter (FSSP). Despite the urging of Archbishop Paul Etienne to get vaccinated and the strong regulations that are in place in the Archdiocese of Seattle regarding masking. In a recent newsletter the archbishop stated, “We have received reports from local Public Health officials that some parishes are not wearing masks. We ask that everyone please reiterate the importance of masking because of the science and our responsibility as Catholics to care for the vulnerable and the common good.”
Apparently St. Joseph’s is attempting to meet their archbishop somewhere in between by offering a “Mass for the Vulnerable.” In their most recent parish bulletin, there was a small blurb advertising this Mass that read, “Due to our very diverse community, we would like to make a specification for the Sunday Mass schedule. Beginning next week, the 8:30 a.m. Mass will be a Mass for the vulnerable. Anyone may attend but masks and spacing, as much as can be, will be enforced in a stricter manner.”
Diverse community indeed.
Image: Adobe Stock.
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.