A Catholic lobby group says Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous should be reassuring priests who have reservations about COVID-19 vaccines that they can be vaccinated in good conscience, rather than asking they be exempted from vaccination rules.

Archbishop Porteous has written to Tasmania’s Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff asking for an exemption to a public health directive that will require those working in aged care homes from September 17 to be vaccinated or have bookings for their vaccination.

Lobby group Concerned Catholics Tasmania said any priest not vaccinated against COVID-19 who visited an aged care home in a pastoral or professional capacity would be “morally derelict”.

The number of Tasmanian priests with a “conscientious objection” to COVID-19 vaccines is said to be a “very small number”, and Archbishop Porteous says he’s “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”.

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

Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous
Archbishop Porteous says a “very small number” of Tasmanian priests have a “conscientious objection” to COVID-19 vaccines.(

ABC News: Rhiannon Shine

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Pope says vaccination is ‘an act of love’

Concerned Catholics Tasmania, a group calling for a more accountable and transparent church, responded to Archbishop Porteous’ recent call.

The statement said many members and followers share views “to the effect that our Archbishop’s request of the government is inconsistent with Pope Francis’ words describing getting vaccinated as ‘an act of love'”.

Concerned Catholics Tasmania also argues Archbishop Porteous’s position runs contrary to views expressed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) that “Catholics in Australia are encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine” and that it is “morally permissible to accept any [COVID-19] vaccine”.

“The commission follows the guidance of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in urging people to be vaccinated for their own health, and for the health of the wider community,” a statement published by the ACBC in April reads.

Concerned Catholics Tasmania said 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”.

“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.

“Concerned Catholics Tasmania will be writing to [Mr] Rockliff to convey our reservations about granting exemptions to ‘conscientious objectors’.”

The group said it would also express its concerns to the archbishop, “but this should not stop individuals from doing so also if they feel so inclined”.

Archbishop Porteous said “a very small number” of Tasmanian priests had a conscientious objection to COVID-19 vaccines.

Priests move to assure community 

Meander Valley parish priest 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,” Father 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.”

Bellerive-Lindisfarne parish priest Richard Ross wrote in his weekly parish newsletter that he had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I have done this because I trust the science, I trust the medical profession and I owe a duty of care to the vulnerable people in my family and my community.

“To make myself more important [than] those I serve is in my understanding contrary to the Gospel,” Father Ross wrote.

At the end of a Mass in Launceston on Sunday, Father Mark Freeman said he, Father Cathura [Ranmuni Silva], Father Ben [Brooks] “and most of the other priests are fully vaccinated”.

Kingston Channel parish priest Mike Delaney previously posted on Facebook that he was fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Archbishop Porteous said he 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.

“I asked the government for advice to see if a very small number of priests in Tasmania who have a conscientious objection to receiving a COVID vaccine, could be tested using a rapid antigen testing kit prior to entering an aged care facility to continue in their ministry.

“I proposed that the testing be carried out by a medical practitioner to ensure the priest is free of the virus, ensuring the safety of staff and clients at the aged care facility.”

Under current Australian rules, rapid antigen testing can only be done under the supervision of a medical practitioner.

The tests are also not as reliable as the standard COVID-19 tests.

A vaccine mandate will also apply in Tasmania to the broader healthcare sector from October 31.

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