Victorian church leaders anxious about COVID vaccine mandate, fearing the creation of modern-day 'lepers'

© Provided by ABC Health

Church leaders and the Victorian government are heading for a potential showdown on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, with the Premier keen for double-doses to be a requirement to enter venues and events when the state opens up.

Bishop Paul Barker from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne said he feared those who could not show proof of vaccination would be turned into “the lepers of Jesus’ day”, and is worried churches may be instructed to shut out some parishioners.

Under New South Wales’ reopening plan, only fully vaccinated people will be allowed to attend places of worship when 70 per cent of the state’s population have received both doses.

The NSW Government is holding firm on the requirement, despite lobbying from churches for exemptions.

On Thursday, Premier Daniel Andrews said his government “hadn’t quite settled” on vaccine requirements for religious venues, and said more would be revealed in Sunday’s roadmap announcement.

“If you want to go to the pub, if you want to go to the [MCG], if you want to do all sorts of things, then you’ll need to be fully vaccinated,” he said.

Churches have been the centre of recent outbreaks in New Zealand, and several fell sick after attending a western Sydney church last year.

Victorian Anglican and Catholic leaders said they wanted to stop the spread of the virus and had strongly encouraged congregations to take up vaccines.

However, Bishop Barker said there were “competing tensions” between public health measures and religious values.

“We want anyone to be able to come [to church], so lockdown and division of vaccinated and unvaccinated is a problem for us,” he said.

Bishop Barker said the Anglican Church wanted in-person services to resume and would support vaccine requirements for worshippers — but only temporarily.

“We’re anxious about where society might end up with division lines. If it’s long term, that’s one of our concerns,” he said.

Catholic Archbishop rejects vaccine passport for churches

Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese Archbishop Peter Comensoli said the church had been lobbying health officials to consider ways to allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to worship in-person.

Proposals included separate venues or services for unvaccinated parishioners with stricter density requirements, he said.

Archbishop Comensoli said he “would not be comfortable” with a vaccine passport system to attend places of worship.

“Religion is not the same as going to a sporting event or the theatre,” he said.

“Different events have different status, and the practice of one’s religion is a human right.”

This week, Catholic hospital St Vincent’s said it would make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for all staff, contractors, and volunteers.

Archbishop Comensoli said the archdiocese was “working through” whether church leaders would follow suit, and would be watching the roadmap announcement closely.

Bishop Barker called for the immediate return of weddings with a limit of five people, along with no vaccine requirements to attend funerals. Archbishop Comensoli also said he wanted baptisms and sacraments to resume with a few witnesses permitted.

Islamic council supports shut-out for unvaccinated

Meanwhile, the head of the Islamic Council of Victoria said he supported a “no double-jab, no entry” policy for mosques if it became a requirement.

“Only fully-vaccinated people should be going to mosques to worship,” Adel Salman said.

“The onus should be on the individual to do the right thing, and to protect themselves and their fellow worshippers.”

However, Mr Salman said mosque volunteers did not want the burden of policing members of their own community to determine their vaccine status.

“That’s an incredibly emotive subject. People get very worked up. We definitely don’t want to take that risk,” he said.

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