Anyone age 12 or over attending a gathering at Catholic churches, rectories or community centers under the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Moncton must present proof that they are fully vaccinated, the archdiocese announced Friday.
The new policy applies to all religious celebrations, Sunday and weekday Masses, baptisms, wedding and funerals, parish and pastoral meetings, catechesis, and social meetings.
The archdiocese's announcement comes in the wake of new provincial government rules set to take effect Tuesday requiring proof of vaccination to access certain events, services, and businesses. Fewer than 50 people have died from COVID-19 in the province of New Brunswick since the pandemic began, out of a total population of more than 780,000, according to government statistics. But provincial officials say they are concerned about a recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations.
The New Brunswick rules apply to those 12 and older seeking to attend “indoor organized gatherings,” including weddings, funerals, conferences, workshops and parties, excepting parties at a private dwelling.
Other events requiring such proof include indoor festivals, performing arts and sports events; movie theaters, nightclubs, bowling alleys and casinos; gyms, indoor pools, and indoor recreation facilities; and indoor and outdoor dining and drinking at restaurants. Proof of vaccination also is needed to visit a long-term care facility.
Events, business and services must have proof of vaccination and government-issued identification from all participants and patrons aged 12 and older. Individuals who claim a medical exemption must show proof. Failure to follow the rules can be fined for amounts between $172 and $772 Canadian, about $135 to $605.
There have been 48 Covid-19-related deaths in New Brunswick out of some 3,200 total cases since the epidemic began. However, there are now some 370 active cases, higher than its previous peak of 348 on Jan. 25, CBC News reports. The province recently witnessed its largest single-day report of new COVID cases, when active cases jumped by 63.
About 17 people in the province are currently hospitalized, 10 of whom are in intensive care.
“As we are in the fourth wave of the pandemic, it is imperative that we do what is needed to protect our residents while living with the reality that the virus is still with us,” said Premier Blaine Higgs. The premier had loosened COVID restrictions on July 30.
“These changes are necessary to ensure that our province is able to remain in Green and avoid lockdowns, which we know are detrimental to businesses and people’s mental health. We also need to avoid overwhelming our health-care system. The vaccine is an effective tool that can help us combat this virus, but more people must get vaccinated to provide us all with better protection.
Dorothy Shephard, the provincial minister of health, met with religious leaders after the Sept. 15 announcement of the new rules, Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton said Sept. 17.
“While explaining new guidelines, she indicated that they had only one goal: to increase the rate of people fully vaccinated in the province,” the archbishop said in a statement.
“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. We would not want one of our places of worship to be the location of a COVID exposure due to our negligence,” Archbishop Vienneau said. “The Minister of Health is counting on our cooperation.”
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.”