Dioceses send strong vaccine message

The COVID-19 crisis has brought increased stress on the health care system -- including Catholic health care facilities. (Photo by Sirichai Saengcharnchai, iStock)

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

[Canadian Catholic News] – The message across the country for parishioners, volunteers and staff at Catholic churches is clear: please get vaccinated.

While COVID-19 vaccination policies being formulated in dioceses have so far stressed that parishioners will not require proof of vaccination, there is a strong signal that vaccines can put churches on the road to normal operations.

Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby has joined faith leaders across his city in a campaign urging everyone to get vaccinated.

The city-wide campaign called Faith in Vaccine is an ecumenical effort that features leaders from the Jewish, Hindu, Presbyterian, non-denominational Christian, Anglican, Lutheran and Muslim faiths.

Crosby’s promotional poster quote reads: “Vaccines protect my health. Vaccines protect my coworkers. Vaccines protect my parishioners. Vaccines protect us all.”

Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby has joined other city faith leaders in promoting vaccines. (Photo courtesy of Tara Chapman/City of Hamilton – The Catholic Registerr, CCN)

Despite this, however, Catholics attending liturgical services at any of the 118 parishes of the Diocese of Hamilton will not be mandated to present proof that they have been vaccinated or tested.

“We are not requiring vaccines for anybody,” said Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, the chancellor for the Diocese of Hamilton. “Having said that, we are strongly encouraging our priests, deacons, clergy, staff, volunteers — everyone — to get the vaccine.

“We have sought to assure that it is safe, ethical and acceptable for Catholics.”

Kroetsch said the diocese, like many across Canada, is encouraging all its priests and staff to get vaccinated, but is navigating its way forward cognizant that limitations will confront clergy who decline the vaccine.

“We recognize that they will not be able to visit nursing homes, hospitals and schools at this time,” he said.

“We really do feel they should get vaccinated. If they don’t get vaccinated, we’re asking they do the rapid test twice a week as people want assurance that they are safe, and that they are receiving communion from a priest who is vaccinated or at least is not carrying COVID.”

Employees also are encouraged to submit to twice-a-week testing if they decide to remain unvaccinated, said Kroetsch.

Depending on the staff member’s job, the diocese might be able to provide an accommodation to enable he or she to keep working without routine testing. Workers who cannot be accommodated would likely be asked to take a leave of absence or use some of their sick days.

On the other hand, priests will not be asked to take a leave of absence if they decline testing, but their duties would be limited.

Church helpers including altar servers, eucharistic ministers, readers and ushers are being requested to take a step back from these volunteer duties at this time if they are unvaccinated. The diocese is considering if the rapid test rule could be instituted as an accommodation.

Some parishioners have called the diocese office insisting that liturgical ministers be vaccinated.

“We’re getting a lot of calls from people saying, ‘I’d like to go to communion, but I don’t know it’s safe. I want to know that the people who give communion are vaccinated or don’t have COVID,’ ” said Kroetsch.


The Archdiocese of Edmonton also made vaccine-related news as Archbishop Richard Smith wrote in a Sept. 24 letter to the faithful that there will be no vaccine exemptions granted by priests based on religious beliefs or conscientious objection.

“Let us recall, first of all, that the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, in communion with the Holy Father himself, have already provided the moral guidance that, in the absence of ethically acceptable alternatives, and in the context of a pandemic that poses a serious threat to public health, it is morally permissible to receive a vaccine approved for use in Canada against COVID-19,” Smith wrote to parishioners in the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

(Additional information, below, from Catholic Saskatoon News)

Smith joins other bishops, including Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary, Bishop Stephen Hero of Prince Albert and Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Saskatoon who have also stated that no vaccine exemption letters will be issued by their dioceses or parishes.

In a message to parishioners in the Diocese of Prince Albert, Bishop Stephen Hero noted that a very few bishops in the United Sates have given so-called “letters of religious exemption.”

“I know that these Bishops are trying to help defend people’s conscience by writing such letters,” Hero wrote. “However, we cannot endorse requests for vaccine exemptions that are based on religious grounds, because the role of the Church is to inform conscience through her teaching and to support the respect for individual conscience, not to legitimize the judgments made by an individual person’s conscience.”

The Canadian Human Rights Act does protect individuals from being required to take a vaccine, providing for medical and conscience exemptions, and individuals should pursue that route with employers, rather than asking for a letter from a church minister, Hero wrote. “Exemption letters for Catholics from Catholic bishops and priests would imply the Church authorities are not encouraging her people to be vaccinated, or that the Church has judged vaccination immoral based on principles of the Catholic faith. This is not the case… On the contrary, the Church’s authorities are strongly encouraging Catholics to be vaccinated against COVID- 19 while recognizing that people cannot be forced.”

Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon also declined to issue “vaccine exemptions.” In a letter to the diocese, Hagemoen said: “In all of this, I urge everyone to exercise charity towards others regarding COVID-19 vaccination mandates and personal decisions about vaccination, and to avoid the polarization of name-calling or shaming of those we disagree with, which has become such a part of our social interactions as a community. Let us go forward above all in charity and care for our sisters and brothers.”