The archbishop said volunteers are expected to be at the church doors to ask attendees for full proof of vaccination and to collect their names. This list can be used again each Sunday to avoid repeated requests for proof of vaccination from repeat visitors.
“This list may eventually be requested by the government,” the archbishop noted.
The rules apply to everyone present, excepting those under age 12 who cannot be vaccinated.
The only possible other exception to this mandate is for someone with a proof of medical exemption, which is rare. Parish employees who do not seek vaccination must wear a mask at all times and take a COVID test periodically. Any parish office visitor may be asked to wear a mask if not vaccinated.
Health authorities are concerned that the vaccinated can still pass on the virus to vulnerable groups, like children too young to be vaccinated. Some 80% of new positive coronavirus cases in the province are among the unvaccinated. Over 77.5% of New Brunswick residents have been fully vaccinated, while over 86% have had at least one dose. The province’s population numbers over 750,000 people, about half of whom are Catholic.
The government aims for a vaccination rate of about 90% and the health minister aims to allow gatherings only of fully vaccinated people “to keep people safe and to act as an incentive for the unvaccinated,” the archbishop said. A return to previous measures like masking and social distancing is not being promoted for this reason, he reported.
Under the new rules, anyone entering New Brunswick will have to register with health authorities. Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 14 days or wait for a negative test 10 days into their stay.
A provincial bill to remove religious and philosophical exemptions from the mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren narrowly failed last year and could be reintroduced.
Vaccine mandates have prompted debates among Catholics about conscientious exemption, the risks and benefits of the available COVID-19 vaccines, and the ethics and legality of vaccine mandates imposed by governments and employers, including some U.S. Catholic dioceses.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore “must be voluntary.” In its December 2020 note, it said that the morality of vaccination depends on both the duty to pursue the common good and the duty to protect one’s own health, and that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.