Churches consider traffic lights, vaccinated people, values and safety


Churches are considering a number of contingency plans while they weigh up if they will re-open only to vaccinated people when the traffic light system kicks in.

Last month the government announced details of its Covid-19 Protection Framework, involving the roll-out of a ‘traffic-light’ system once all DHBs hit 90 percent full vaccination rates.

Under this system, churches with over 100 people can only meet under the orange setting without restrictions if vaccine certificates are used. Without a certificate, only 50 people can gather one meter apart.

Green allows the same numbers as orange for vaccine certificate gatherings. However, only up to 100 people one metre apart can gather without the mandate.

Under the red setting, churches using certificates can have 100 people, one metre apart; without vaccine certificates only 10 people can gather with social distancing.

Among the people speaking to media about the vaccine certificates and how the mandate affects churchgoers was New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre director John Kleinsman (pictured).

He says while churches are generally safe places, open to all without prejudice, that was far from clear cut during a pandemic.

“It is tricky and we’ve never been in this place before. Churches should be safe places and at the same time they should also be places that are open to all people without prejudice or any discrimination.”

Kleinsman says some people would feel unsafe and would not want to come to church if non-vaccinated people were present, while some would feel excluded if non-vaccinated people were unable to attend.

“Ethical dilemmas inevitably involve balancing competing values and rights and this is a case in point, the ability and autonomy of people to choose and of course we respect people’s conscience.

“How do you balance competing rights, that’s what we’re debating and struggling with and reflecting on at the moment?”

Kleinsman says this the Nathaniel Centre is providing advice to Bishops ahead of a meeting this week.

He says they would be leaning on important values to guide parishes.

“Within our own Catholic social teaching, we have principles to assist in those dilemmas,” he says.

“In this case, I would say that the key principles that apply would be the principle of the common good, the principle of the option for the most vulnerable, the principle of solidarity and as well the dignity of the individual, which for me includes the right to be protected from harm from other people.”

Religious historian Peter Lineham says he wonders why we can’t allow exemptions for this vaccine.

He says churches are having to make the difficult decision of whether they will admit non-vaccinated people.

Although no applications for religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have been made yet, the West Coast’s Gloriavale may be the first to apply for an exemption of the vaccine mandate for its teachers.

Church leaders from most denominations report actively encouraging their parishes to support the government’s vaccine programme. Most are also still discussing whether to use vaccine certificates.


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