Dioceses navigate vaccine protocols

(Photo bu Spencer B. Davis, Pixabay.com)

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Over 19 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, all 225 parishes of the Archdiocese of Toronto have deftly avoided being an outbreak zone for the virus.

Archdiocese senior leadership hope the new vaccination and testing policy that became operational this past week for clergy, staff and volunteers will help maintain this unblemished record.

“Thousands of volunteers have been working very diligently over the past (19) months to make sure we welcome people safely and so I think our track record is strong,” said Neil MacCarthy, communications director for the Archdiocese of Toronto. “This is another measure to kind of welcome people safely.”

Any congregant eligible for the vaccine is encouraged to take their two doses. Unvaccinated parishioners who altar serve, read, dispense the Eucharist or fulfill another liturgical role can still volunteer if they undergo a weekly rapid test.

Since this policy is in its infancy, MacCarthy told The Catholic Register that it is too soon to tell if there will be a sizable faction of non-vaccinated parishioners who decline the testing option and choose to not volunteer at all.

While the archdiocese has not yet attracted a vociferous backlash to this policy, MacCarthy says some churchgoers have raised concerns.

“There are people who are trying to understand why it may be required. Some people who may say, ‘you’re forcing vaccinations’ — we’re not. If you choose not to be vaccinated, we ask for the weekly rapid test,” he said.

“You hear concerns but the vast majority of staff and parishioners have been great in supporting the policy and understanding that we’re trying to keep everyone safe.”

Other Canadian dioceses are under the same requirement to craft policies that safeguard parishioner health while also ensuring the church remains a welcoming place of fellowship and refuge for all.

Western Canadian dioceses including Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Winnipeg have not established any mandates requiring vaccination or rapid testing as of now. All are strictly abiding by the particular capacity codes, masking and social distancing rules established in its regional jurisdiction.

The Catholic Register reported earlier this month that the Diocese of Hamilton is strongly encouraging priests, deacons, clergy, staff, volunteers and parishioners to get the vaccine (no vaccine passport system to attend church will be established).

Msgr. Murray Kroetsch said church helpers who are unvaccinated are being advised to step back from their assignments at this time, but a rapid testing accommodation is a possibility.

The Archdiocese of Moncton, which quickly reversed its decision to institute a vaccine passport rule in late September, does not expressly require volunteers to be vaccinated at this time. Staff members, however, are highly encouraged to get the shot. If not, they will be subject to strict masking and testing protocols.