Priests not vaccinated against Covid-19 will be unable to visit classes and celebrate Masses and other liturgies in Catholic schools in New Zealand once the measures in a Government health order take effect.
That is one of the conclusions that the New Zealand Catholic Education Office has drawn from a mandate for schools announced by the Government on October 11.
NZCEO chief executive Dr Kevin Shore told NZ Catholic that New Zealand’s bishops have been “very clear that they will follow the heath guidance to ensure that communities are safe, and this is no exception”.
“This approach will extend to a school Mass held in a parish church – if it is a school event, whether on-site or off-site, the health order will apply,” Dr Shore said.
“The health and safety of the community is paramount, and our Catholic bishops are committed to ensuring that our clergy also play their part,” he added.
The health order stipulates that only school staff and support people who are vaccinated against Covid-19 can have contact with children and students from January 1, 2022.
Staff and support people will need to have had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by November 15. According to media reports, only those who have had at least one jab by November 15 will be allowed to have contact with children after that date.
Dr Shore said that the NZCEO endorses the call by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference encouraging all eligible citizens to be vaccinated.
“NZCBC has taken a position that strongly encourages all Catholics to receive the Covid-19 vaccination, with Pope Francis going so far as to say that getting vaccinated is an act of love for all people. The more people who are vaccinated, the greater the chances that, as a community, we are protecting our staff and students, particularly those who are most vulnerable,” Dr Shore said.
High vaccination rates will provide a line of protection for vulnerable staff and students, he added.
“The decision to mandate compulsory vaccination is contentious for many in our community, but as state-integrated schools, school boards have little choice but to follow this health order. To not do so could have serious implications for a school.”
Dr Shore said that the NZCEO has been encouraging principals and school boards to promote the vaccination message to their staff, and to have conversations with those employees who have not been vaccinated.
“These conversations may not be easy, but are necessary if any resolutions are to be found,” he said.
Nonetheless, it is highly likely there will be some Catholic schools who will lose staff because of the health order, but Dr Shore did not know the extent of this issue when NZ Catholic spoke with him.
It is possible that some of the staff losses could be for special character positions (tagged).
“The impact on principals and teachers in special character positions is an additional concern that state schools will not have to deal with, and it may prove to be an extra burden for Catholic state-integrated schools,” Dr Shore said.
“NZCEO is actively involved in sector group meetings facilitated by the Ministry of Education to develop advice and guidance in navigating this challenging space, and the New Zealand School Trustees’ Association is also developing guidance – this is all happening at urgency in an area where there is limited previous experience to draw on,” he added.
“Where NZCEO believes it can support our Catholic schools, it will provide guidance and information as issues and needs arise.”
Another issue for schools will be that volunteers who have direct interaction with students will have to be vaccinated, although the impact will vary depending on how volunteers are used, and on how many don’t want to be vaccinated. Some reorganisation of how volunteers are used may be needed in some schools, Dr Shore said.