Nottingham, England, Jan 6, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).
A parish in England has asked Catholics not to attend Mass if they are “not vaccinated and/or won’t wear a mask.”
Under the heading “Keeping safe,” the parish asked Massgoers to use hand sanitizer and wear a face covering when attending the parish’s three churches.
“If you are not vaccinated and/or won’t wear a mask, please do not come to Mass,” it said.
The policy was criticized on social media, with one Catholic priest describing it as “scandalous, sinister, and unchristian.”
Asked if local Bishop Patrick McKinney supported the parish’s stance, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Nottingham said that vaccination status should not be a “barrier” to Catholics attending Mass.
“The law states that face coverings are mandatory during Mass unless you are exempt and we trust all of our parishes to ensure that this legal requirement is implemented with charity and courtesy,” the spokesperson said on Jan. 4.
“While many in the Catholic Church in England and Wales and beyond have been vocal in encouraging the faithful to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for their own protection and for the protection of others, this choice is ultimately a matter of individual conscience.”
“The decision to decline the vaccine should not be a barrier to receiving the sacraments or attending Mass.”
CNA understands that the parish, recently formed after the merger of the parishes of St. Augustine’s, Our Lady & St. Edward’s, and Sacred Heart, offers free masks to churchgoers and does not check the vaccination status of people attending Mass.
Parish community coordinator Diane Williams told CNA on Jan. 4 that the request was intended to protect members of the community from infection and hospitalization.
“We are trying our hardest to protect our community from hospital admission, especially the elderly and vulnerable, and our overworked NHS in a city where the vaccination rates are one of the lowest in the country,” she said via email.
She pointed to government data showing that within the Nottingham local authority area, 36.4% of people aged 12 years and over have received a booster or third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In some local authority areas, the figure is as high as 70%.
Yet the omicron variant is reportedly spreading quickly even among those fully vaccinated.
An estimated 1 in 15 people in England tested positive for the virus in the last week of 2021. But the government has so far ruled out another nationwide lockdown.
The Vatican underlined its support for COVID-19 vaccines last month amid global concern about the rapid spread of the omicron variant.
“The Holy Father has defined vaccination as ‘an act of love,’ since it is aimed at the protection of people against COVID-19,” the Holy See press office said on Dec. 22.
The Vatican’s intervention came as countries around the world imposed new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the omicron variant, which is believed to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The measures have prompted protests in several European countries.
Dutch riot police broke up an anti-lockdown protest attended by several thousand people in Amsterdam on Jan. 2, reported Reuters.
An estimated 44,000 people attended a rally against compulsory vaccines in Vienna on Dec. 11, after the government announced that Austria would become the first Western country to introduce mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 from February 2022.
Italy has seen strikes and protests in response to the government’s decision to make the country’s Green Pass mandatory for workers. A Green Pass proves that the holder has been vaccinated, tested negative every 48 hours, or recently recovered from COVID-19.
Last month’s Vatican statement did not address the debate about mandatory vaccination. The most recent Vatican intervention on the topic came in 2020.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its “Note on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines,” issued on Dec. 21, 2020, that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
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