Kim Chen: Catholic leaders’ ‘irresponsible’ vaccine statements put vulnerable at risk

Sep 19, 2021
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The Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform is very concerned at the confusing vaccination leadership from the Catholic Church in Australia.

Concerned Catholics Tasmania chair Kim Chen, speaking on behalf of the Coalition, expressed dismay that Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous’s focus and public stance were about supporting priests with “conscientious objection to vaccination” rather than protecting those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Similarly, Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher is questioning the New South Wales government decision to show proof of vaccination before churchgoers can enter, on the basis that worship is “an essential service, not mere recreation”, a dubious assertion.

Public statements of this nature by church leaders irresponsibly discourage vaccination to the overall detriment of our community. People who are not vaccinated are not only at personal risk, but also a higher risk to others around them. The positions adopted by Fisher and Porteous contrast with the position of the Vatican which has urged people to be vaccinated for their own health, and for the health of the wider community.

And the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has encouraged Catholics to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, noting that it is “morally permissible” to accept any vaccine.

Chen pointed out that the archbishops’ positions also contrast with Pope Francis’ description of vaccination as “an act of love”.

Chen added that there was a moral imperative to protect the health of those who were vulnerable, and unvaccinated people put the health of vulnerable people at risk.

“In adopting such a public position, these archbishops are not only risking the health of vulnerable people; they are also creating doubt in the minds of Catholics that could dissuade them from seeking vaccination,” Chen said.

The Coalition believes it is a moral dereliction to encourage any unnecessary interaction of unvaccinated people with others who are vulnerable. Church leaders have a particular obligation to encourage vaccination in the interests of the community overall.

Many Catholics are concerned that ill-informed leadership by bishops may impact many other critical issues at the imminent Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia.

“Many Catholics are increasingly concerned that many of their Church’s leaders are not listening to the people of the Church and ensuring truly Christian leadership. The Plenary Council Assembly 3-10 October 2021 is an opportunity for the church in Australia to reject autocratic and clericalist leadership that fails to listen to the people of the Church,” Chen said.

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