Questions surround conscientious exemption from Covid vaccination

conscientious exemption

Australian Archbishop of Tasmania, Julian Porteous, is requesting a conscientious exemption to a Covid public health directive for a small group of priests.

Porteous has written to Tasmania’s health minister, Jeremy Rockliff asking for the exemption.

He says he is “obligated to respect the decision of those members of the clergy who have a conscientious objection to receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in Australia”.

“There is currently no exemption from this mandate for reasons of conscience; and

“I am therefore obligated to respect the decision of those members of the clergy who have a conscientious objection to receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in Australia and would ask that those with such an objection contact me directly to discuss how to manage this issue with regard to the provision of ministry in aged care facilities within their parish,” writes Porteous.

However, Premier Peter Gutwein and Public Health officials have said the directive will not allow exemptions for people with a “conscientious objection” to the vaccine.

A Catholic lobby group in the Archdiocese says Porteous response should be to reassure these priests who think they cannot “in good conscience” be vaccinated.

Concerned Catholics Tasmania“; a group committed to finding a voice for the laity and sharing their commitment to their Baptismal call and to their Church, say that Porteous’ request runs counter to those of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference who in a media release supported vaccination.

“Catholics in Australia are encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them… is morally permissible to accept any vaccine,” say the Bishops in a media release on 20 April, 2021.

The bishops go on to say “There is a particular imperative to protect the health of those who are vulnerable.”

Concerned Catholics Tasmania also refer to Pope Francis who described getting vaccinated as “an act of love”.

The Catholic group told the ABC that a “sensible approach for our archbishop to adopt would be to reassure any priest, who is expressing reservations about being vaccinated, that he can be vaccinated with moral impunity”.

“For us, anyone who visits an aged care facility in a pastoral/professional capacity without a vaccine would be morally derelict.

“Our archbishop needs to tell our priests that he will appoint vaccinated priests/chaplains to minister in those circumstances in the aged care space and ask the unvaccinated once to stand aside from their usual duties in aged care or any other ministry that requires them to have close contact with people,” the group’s statement said.

A number of Tasmanian priests have taken a counter-view to Porteous and are reporting to their congregation that they have been vaccinated.

One, Ben Brooks told his congregation on Sunday that he was fully vaccinated and that most priests in Tasmania were vaccinated.

“I thought it was very important to do that,” Brooks said.

“From a priest’s point of view, the safety of people, the community is important … I just wanted to make sure that people know that I had been vaccinated and I have no objection to it.”

Porteous said he personally supported 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.

“I myself have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.


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