The Catholic Church in Tasmania is prepared for any COVID-19 eventuality, and continues to offer its many good works across the state in accordance with protocols produced by government health officials.
The safety of Archdiocesan workers, parishioners and those in care of its agencies is of paramount importance. Since the outbreak of COVID in 2020, a crisis management team has met regularly, and continues to do so on a weekly basis (or daily when required). The team has produced action plans and materials in support of Tasmanian Catholic parishes and archdiocesan agencies relating to the management of COVID-19.
The plans include the ‘Risk Register and Action Plan’, ‘Outbreak Management Plan’ and the ‘Parish COVID-19 Safety Action Plan – Lockdown: Religious Gatherings and Parish Operations’ document. The Parish COVID-19 Safety Action Plan refers specifically to hygiene precautions for the celebration of Masses:
- Communion from the Chalice is suspended.
- The sign of peace at Mass must not include a handshake (replace with nod, smile or other gesture)
- Priests will refrain from shaking hands when greeting people after the Mass.
- Ministers of the altar will use hand sanitiser before and after the Mass. This includes those assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion.
- Holy Communion may be administered to the hand or the mouth. If the tongue, mouth or hand are inadvertently touched, sanitisation will be redone.
- Holy Water Stoops are to be emptied, and remain empty.
- Provision of hand sanitiser to people coming to and leaving the celebration of Mass.
- The use of shared hymn books is to be avoided.
- If anyone is experiencing cold or flu like symptoms, they are asked to remain away from Mass until the symptoms have passed or cleared by a doctor. Sunday Mass obligation can be met by a time of prayer at home.
- Parishioners must ‘check-in’ using the Tasmanian government App, or by recording their attendance in writing.
- Parishioners adhere to social distancing requirements.
- Churches are thoroughly cleaned at the completion of each Mass.
The Action Plans establish effective workplace health safety systems as per the minimum standards that have been developed by Work Safe Tasmania in consultation with Public Health (WHSPR009 Compliance with Legislation).
Catholic Archbishop of Hobart The Most Reverend Julian Porteous has clarified his position in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations, and a very small number of Tasmanian Catholic clergy who have a conscientious objection to receiving COVID vaccinations.
“I support the rollout of approved COVID-19 vaccinations as a means for personal protection against the COVID virus and for the sake of the common good,” His Grace said.
“I myself have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Archbishop Porteous explained that he wrote to the Tasmanian premier, and health minister seeking advice about clergy who wished to continue their ministry in aged care facilities but had a conscientious objection to receiving a COVID vaccination.
“I asked the government for advice to see if a very small number of priests in Tasmania who have a conscientious objection to receiving a COVID vaccine, could be tested using a rapid antigen testing kit prior to entering an aged care facility to continue their ministry.
“I proposed that the testing be carried out by a medical practitioner to ensure the priest is free of the virus; ensuring the safety of staff and clients at the aged care facility.”
In a letter to Archbishop Porteous dated 16 September, Minister for Health Jeremy Rockliff has not approved any exemption for clergy under Section 16, Mandatory Vaccination of Certain Workers.
As of 17 September, all clergy and others seeking to undertake pastoral ministry at an aged care facility will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Main photo: Scaliger / iStock