Parishioners have been wearing masks at Mass for some time now, but in New Brunswick will also have to be double vaccinated. CNS photo/Colleen Rowan

Peter Stockland: Vaccine edict sets dangerous example

  • September 25, 2021

Is it just me or does anyone else feel deeply uneasy about a minister of the Crown effectively usurping the role of a minister of the Church?

It’s a real question that arises following a Sept. 17 announcement by the Archdiocese of Moncton that it will require proof of double vaccination against COVID-19 for anyone participating in virtually any church activity, including Mass, confession, prayer services, weddings and funerals.

Specifically unsettling is a Q & A portion of the announcement issued by Archbishop Valery Vienneau. The archbishop is asked if there is any leeway in the edict issued by New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard to “accept a person who is not vaccinated or has a single dose inside our facilities for a celebration or a meeting? Even with a mask and social distancing?”

The answer given with the authority of the pastor of all Moncton archdiocese Catholics is this: “The minister said ‘no’ unless she had proof of exemption, which is rare.”

Oh, well, then. The minister said “no.” That’s it then, innit? Done and dusted. No is no, it seems.

Unless we ask a rather reasonable, indeed expected, question: What did the archbishop say to the minister’s “no”? Did he, by chance, point to, oh, say, Canada’s Charter of Rights guaranteeing religious freedom from state interference? Did he point out that the even older doctrine of Church-state separation was developed to prevent the state from being able to arbitrarily dictates “yes” and “no” in the affairs of the Church?

We don’t know. The statement doesn’t say. What it does make explicit is that the minister “wishes to have gatherings of fully vaccinated people to keep people safe and to act as an incentive for the unvaccinated.”

So, what the minister wishes from the Church, the minister gets from the Church? If the minister says “Jump” is the Church’s only available reply: “Yes, minister. How high?”

Let’s not wander into the thickets of speculation about what happens if the minister “wishes” the Church to do away with its secularly objectionable bits such as transubstantiation, elevation of the Host or the resurrection of life. Let’s stay on the solid ground of the archbishop’s own statement. As stated, it makes clear the new first order role of the Church is not to minister to Catholics but to provide “an incentive” to help attain the political objectives of a minister of the Crown, e.g., her wish to attain a 90-per-cent vaccination rate in New Brunswick.

The question here is not whether that is a legitimate goal for the sake of the common good. Some say it is. Some say, no, it is not. Personally, I wish we had a 99.9-per-cent vaccination rate across Canada, if not globally, if only so we could end this stupefyingly interminable conversation about COVID responses and get on with life. And, of course, save lives. Which a vaccination rate of a certain elevated percentage might, or might not, do.

Whether it’s a good goal, an indifferent goal or a dangerous goal remains a matter of some debate. The Archdiocese of Vancouver, for example, has said “no” to demanding vaccine passports from those who step inside its churches. It will stick with masking, handwashing, and social distancing, an approach supported by B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Those are decisions faith leaders, communities, church groups, choirs make for themselves; they don’t need an order from me,” Dr. Henry has been quoted by The B.C. Catholic newspaper.

It’s an excellent point. In fact, the Archdiocese of Moncton’s inability to articulate it, insist upon it and play it back for the benefit of New Brunswick’s health minister is exactly the point at which I become troubled.

I have been supportive in writing since the pandemic began of the Church hierarchy’s decision to abide by the restrictions and even the closures that civil authorities imposed. I’ve argued it showed our desire to be good citizens, to demonstrate that we live in the world even as we are not of it.

But the Moncton archdiocese’s willingness to take names at the open church door, to actually accommodate the wishes of a minister of the Crown by preventing the faithful from worshipping without government certification, make me very ill at ease.

Who is with me? Yes? No?

(Stockland is publisher of and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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