The Canadian Archdiocese of Moncton has rescinded a policy that required all Catholics wishing to enter church buildings to show proof of having received two doses of a coronavirus vaccination and record their names with volunteers.
In an update to the archdiocesan policies published at midday Friday, Archbishop Valery Vienneau said his decision to withdraw the policy came after a conversation between the Catholic bishops of the province and the New Brunswick provincial health authorities on Thursday night.
“Accordingly, the four bishops of [New Brunswick] agree on the following steps to make our churches as safe as possible for our faithful. No proof of vaccination is required for Sunday or weekday masses, baptisms, prayer groups, and others,” the archbishop said.
Instead, the local Catholic dioceses have agreed to a common set of policies to combat the spread of the virus, including mandatory masks for indoor liturgies, and instituting a cap on attendance at 50% of church building capacity to allow for social distancing.
In line with previously published government requirements, proof of vaccination status is required for weddings and funerals in all venues which are not private residences, but there is no maximum capacity cap or requirement for social distancing.
The updated policy comes after the archdiocese had previously announced and confirmed policies which went beyond government requirements earlier this week. Government regulations require mandatory proof of vaccination for many public buildings and events, but not houses of worship.
The New Brunswick government has the stated aim of reaching a 90% vaccination rate among residents aged 12 and up, and said that if it can not reach that goal, it could impose new restrictions on the size of public gatherings. The original Moncton policies were a response to that goal.
On Monday, the Moncton archdiocese said that all those entering a church building would be required to show proof of double vaccination, and have their name and vaccination status recorded by parish volunteers on a list for subsequent reference and possible submission to the government. The government had explicitly said it was not asking for businesses to record the names of vaccinated individuals.
Other dioceses in the province announced their own policies of mandatory indoor masking and asked parishioners to take a survey to assess parish-wide vaccination rates, but none had announced a requirement for proof of vaccination.
The Archdiocese of Moncton’s policy has raised questions among local Catholics, some of whom have objected to the restriction of access to the sacraments for some Catholics. Now, the province’s Catholic dioceses have a common policy.
Earlier in the week, New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs had warned that, while he was committed to working with religious leaders, restrictions on maximum capacity and a return to social distancing may be necessary for churches, but he stopped short of suggesting proof of vaccination status for houses of worship.
The new policies appear in line with the Church’s own internal assessment of vaccines and public health protections during the pandemic.
Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome have made clear that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to receive all of the widely available vaccines against coronavirus, and stated repeatedly that doing so is a service to the common good. The CDF has also insisted that vaccination is a matter of prudential moral freedom for the individual.
The new Moncton policy, now common to all the dioceses of the province, provides that “it is highly desirable for parish employees to be fully vaccinated.” “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.”
“We will accept anyone who comes to the parish offices to get information or service. If this person is not vaccinated, they must wear a mask,” the archdiocese said.
Announcing the new policies on Friday, Archbishop Vienneau said that “we understand the concerns of [New Brunswick] Public Health and continue to work together following the guidelines issued to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.”
“We are all concerned about the current situation in the province. I am very grateful to all the parish priests and volunteer teams who are doing everything possible to ensure the health and well-being of our faithful.”