The Catholic bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand will ensure vaccinated and unvaccinated people can safely attend Mass when the Government’s “traffic light” Covid-19 system starts.
Each parish will be asked to provide at least one weekly Mass for people with the “My Vaccine Pass” required for unrestricted gatherings under the “orange” and “green” traffic light settings. They will be asked to provide the opportunity for people to attend a separate numbers-restricted Mass without providing proof of vaccination.
Parish guidelines are listed in a pastoral letter titled “Living, Caring, Worshipping and Ministering in a Covid-19 World”.
NZ Catholic asked the NZCBC about the red setting, and was told that statement in guidelines that “parishes will provide Masses for people with a My Vaccine Pass while ensuring there is the opportunity for people without a pass to access a separate numbers-restricted option where possible” applies at all settings – red, orange and green.
All lay people who help with Mass and all other public-facing ministries will need to be vaccinated for vaccinated-only work. Priests are being asked to be vaccinated, and will be limited in their ministry if they are not.
The Government says the “traffic light” system will start soon after 29 November. Auckland will move straight into the red setting shortly after November 29. The vaccine passes required for unrestricted entry to many places are available for downloading now.
The system will allow unrestricted numbers of vaccinated people to gather in a church under the orange and green settings, but restrict numbers without a vaccine pass to 50 (orange) or 100 (green), under guidelines made public so far.
In the red setting, gatherings (like Masses) that have entry with a vaccine pass will have a limit of 100 people, with 1 metre spacing. Gatherings under the red setting that permit entry without a vaccine pass have a limit of 10 people.
In the pastoral letter, the bishops said that they have been struggling with how best to conduct safe church gatherings without either vaccinated or unvaccinated people feeling alienated.
“We believe that churches should be safe places for all people, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” the letter says. “In the spirit of the Gospel, we also want our churches to be places of hospitality and inclusion, open and welcoming to all without prejudice or discrimination.”
The bishops have set these guidelines for the ”traffic light” system :
- Parishes will provide Masses for people with a My Vaccine Pass while ensuring there is the opportunity for people without a pass to access a separate numbers-restricted option where possible.
- Accordingly, we anticipate that parishes will, either singly or in collaboration with neighbouring parishes, provide worship opportunities for the vaccinated (requiring proof of vaccination) as well as separate gatherings, subject to number restrictions, that will be open to vaccinated and unvaccinated alike (no proof of vaccine required).
- All lay people involved in public-facing public ministries related to a worship service or other parish ministries (ushers, readers, ministers of the Eucharist, collectors, those leading liturgies of the Word, Communion to the sick, home visitation) will need to be fully vaccinated at vaccination-only Masses and when performing other work where vaccination is required.
- Priests who are not fully vaccinated will, under the current public health orders, be significantly constrained in their ministry; they will be unable to exercise pastoral care in aged-care residential settings or hospitals as well as schools. Priests who are not fully vaccinated or who do not wish to declare their vaccination status will not be able to attend and preside at vaccinated-only Church events.
- When asking a fully vaccinated priest to preside at a service open to both vaccinated and unvaccinated, parishes and priests need to give due consideration to any specific health conditions a priest may have which could make him more susceptible to the health consequences of being infected by Covid-19.
- Similarly, all church workers (whether paid or voluntary) involved in home-based pastoral care visitations need to have regard for the vaccine status of those they are visiting, along with their own health conditions which may make them more susceptible to the health consequences of being infected by Covid-19.
- Pending any changes accompanying the ‘traffic light’ system, the current situation also demands that parishes continue with measures designed to minimise the risk of transmitting Covid-19, such as encouraging the use of masks, social distancing, communion only in the hand, no holy water for blessing, and no shared hymn or other books.
The six bishops are fully vaccinated. They have been encouraging all priests to be fully-vaccinated, but accept they cannot legally require that.
“Priests who are not fully-vaccinated will, under the current public health orders, be significantly constrained in their ministry; they will be unable to exercise pastoral care in aged-care residential settings or hospitals as well as schools. Priests who are not fully vaccinated or who do not wish to declare their vaccination status will not be able to attend and preside at vaccinated-only Church events,” the letter states.
The bishops say society should never uncritically accept the imposition by our political leaders of the kind of restrictions applied during the pandemic.
“However, having regard to the current situation, we believe that, on balance, the introduction of vaccine mandates for certain sectors, as well as the use of vaccine certificates, are warranted for now.
“At the same time, remaining always mindful of state overreach, and anticipating that restrictions we may consider to be warranted now may not be warranted in the future, we urge that the mandates and requirements for vaccine certificates be continually reviewed. In other words, our support of these measures is contingent on, and only justified by, the emergency situation as it exists now.”
In the pastoral letter, the bishops added: “As an example, identifying other sufficiently sensitive and reliable approaches to Covid-19 testing and detection may, in the future, allow for different ways of managing the risks of transmission and protecting those who are most vulnerable. Options such as rapid antigen testing, not currently included under the incoming ‘traffic light’ system, could then provide different and less restrictive options within the employment, social, religious, hospitality and recreational sectors for those who are not vaccinated.”