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An open letter from 77 Catholic Priests on the COVID-19 Crisis

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AFIPN has obtained a statement penned by 77 Australian Priest, it was an open letter to the Catholic community and general public.

The letter was originally sent to the “Café Locked Down” show when they started calling churches to see if any priest would come on the show for a chat. The letter was sent in the hope it would be published by “Café Locked Down” Now that “Café Locked Down” has partnered with AFIPN, we have decided to publish this letter.

CATHOLIC PRIESTS OF AUSTRALIA 

Statement on Certain Aspects of the Covid-19 Crisis 

As Catholic priests ministering in a range of pastoral settings across Australia,  

We acknowledge our responsibility to work with the government and health providers to protect our people from infection, especially the weak and the vulnerable. We are also conscious, however, that in any crisis a legitimate and proportionate response cannot be at the cost of human rights, which are not conferred by the State but bestowed by the Creator, and therefore constitute the Inalienable foundation of human dignity.

We believe it our duty to respond to the serious concerns and questions addressed to us by many Catholic people and other men and women of good will. Just as health workers have important insights into health emergencies through their professional experience, so we wish to share the fruits of our experience on the front line of dealing with what has also developed into a “spiritual emergency”. By speaking the truth in charity (see Eph 4:15), we desire only to serve the supreme good of individuals and of society. Basing ourselves on the Natural Law common to all people and our Christian faith as professed by the Catholic Church. We affirm the following: 

1

Any person in possession of his intellectual faculties has an inalienable right, within the limits of the moral law, to make individual medical decisions. No human authority may legitimately usurp that right. For many, the decision to be vaccinated or not is complex, requiring study, consultation and counsel, and deliberation free of coercion. As the US National Catholic Bioethics Centre states: “The best ethical decision-making occurs when individuals have sufficient information for discernment and are able to reflect without undue external pressures placed on them. Mandates, by their nature, exert pressure that can be severe if employment or the ability to further one’s education is threatened” (Statement of 2 July 2021).

In the context of a responsible approach to Covid-19, this involves individuals being able to inform themselves about available vaccines, including their derivation, possible side-effects, weighing up the risks and benefits to themselves as well as considerations of the common good, and possible alternative measures.  Covid-19 vaccines, consequently, may not be mandated by governments or employers. Discrimination against those who choose not to be vaccinated – such as refusing them entry into public areas or most workplaces – is unacceptable.

2

Segregation based on medical choices is contrary to the Natural Law. Were it to be imposed, it would lead to a medical apartheid in which some would receive favour and others would be marginalised. 

3

A vaccine passport would result in ostracising and alienating from aspects of public life those who decline the vaccine; it would also cause deep resentments in those who accept vaccination only under duress.  In both cases, the seeds of serious division would be sown in our society. History tends to discredit those who promote or tolerate such segregation, however high-minded their declared motives might be. 

4

A person who has not been justly convicted of a crime has a right to freedom of movement and association within his own country. The State exists to protect this freedom, not to negate it by forcing people to remain in their homes or to restrict their movements. This right is inalienable. It accords with the social nature of human beings and allows people to provide for themselves and their families. 

5

Human beings have the right to go about their daily activities without the fear of being tracked and under surveillance. The present state of fear and sometimes violent repression which we are witnessing in some states is an affront to human dignity. This denial of basic rights threatens the social fabric. 

6

The physical needs and health of the human person cannot be provided for at the cost of their spiritual needs. To attempt to do so will often put at risk a person’s physical and emotional health as well. In particular, the State has an obligation not to impede the spiritual needs of the sick and the dying from being met; likewise, funeral rites and the legal right to marry (for those who are morally free to contract marriage) must not be impeded by the State.  

7

As Christians and Catholic Priests, we believe that rights grounded in the Natural Law and the dignity of the human person are also affirmed and protected by the Gospel and the Catholic Church. Each person has a conscience that is the voice of God in his heart, a voice which he is bound to obey. Conscience is not to be understood as one’s personal preference or desire, or as the origin of the moral law. Conscience acts not as a legislator, but rather as a judge that seeks to apply the demands of God’s law to a given situation. Every person is obliged to act with an informed conscience, but no human authority, remaining within the context of just public order, may illicitly substitute itself for or violate the certain judgement of conscience. This is a fundamental axiom of our society and civilisation. If it does not continue to be recognised and upheld, we can only expect to see a growing authoritarianism.

8

As a Church which has received its mission from Our Lord Jesus Christ, we require the freedom to go about doing good (see Acts 10:38) and preaching everywhere the Word of God (see Mark 16:20). Civil authorities have the obligation to respect our mission and our right to preach and to hold religious services in public and in private at our discretion. As ambassadors of Christ, we expect this right to be respected by all. In a secular society (that nevertheless has its roots in Christian belief – as the Preamble to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia bears witness, when it speaks of our people “humbly seeking the blessing of Almighty God”) we ask nothing more–but also nothing less–than the freedoms that our non-believing fellow citizens rightfully claim. 

9

Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceed eth from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4). As Catholic priests and stewards of God’s Holy Mysteries, we believe that the seven sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders – are visible and efficacious signs of invisible grace, instituted by Christ and gifted to the Church, as the principal and ordinary means of conveying to God’s people His saving grace, which is a created share in the Divine Life itself. Just as the body, even in the midst of emergencies, must still receive all that is necessary to its continuance, so the spirit, especially during times of trial and distress, must also be permitted to receive all necessary provisions.          

The right to worship according to one’s conscience includes the right to access places of worship. 

 It is therefore contrary to the rights of citizens when the State forces the closing of churches and other places of worship–especially when prudent steps can readily be taken to ensure the safety of all.  

10

Segregation or exclusion of members from normal participation at worship is contrary to the Gospel, by which we are called to be a source of unity by bringing all souls to God through Jesus Christ. As Catholic Priests, Guardians and Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, we acknowledge that segregation in worship is eminently contrary to the very meaning of this great mystery and sacrament which unites us in Christ. 

In conclusion, to all our fellow Catholics and to all men and women of good will in  

Australia, we say: Be not afraid (Matt 10:28), and have confidence (John 16:33), for God is with us (Mat 1:23). 

We Catholic Priests of Australia 

22 September 2021

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