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Unvaccinated clergy in Lexington, Kentucky barred from ministering to the sick and homebound elderly

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by Shannon Mullen, Joe Bukuras

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 08:10 am

Priests of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 may not minister to the sick, elderly, and homebound, Bishop John Stowe has directed.

The policy was announced during a Saturday vigil Mass Sept. 11 that Bishop Stowe celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington.

At the end of the liturgy, Deacon Tim Weinmann read a statement from the cathedral’s rector, Father John Moriarty, that both Fr. Moriarty and Father David Wheeler, the parochial vicar, have not been vaccinated.

“The bishop has asked that Fr. David and I, Fr. John – I’m speaking for Fr. John – make an announcement that we are not vaccinated, so people can decide if they wanted to attend Mass where they were celebrating,” the deacon read, according to a video of the Mass posted by the Cathedral of Christ the King.

“And if also the priests – and this has been done throughout the diocese – those priests that are not vaccinated are to follow the COVID protocol in the liturgy, and they are not allowed to visit the sick or elderly that are homebound,” the announcement continued. “Fr. John and Fr. David, again, have not been vaccinated.” Bishop Stowe stood beside Deacon Weinmann while the announcement was read but did not comment afterward.

It is not clear from the announcement Saturday whether other priests in the diocese must publicly disclose that they have not received a COVID-19 vaccination. A spokesperson for the diocese was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

On. Aug. 17 Bishop Stowe mandated that all employees of the Catholic Center, the diocese’s administrative headquarters, be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1 as a condition of employment.

“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety,” Bishop Stowe said in a statement detailing the Aug. 17 mandate.

“There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” he said.

“The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”

The mandate does not apply to clergy not working at the Catholic Center, though Bishop Stowe has encouraged pastors to adopt the same policy in their parishes. In an interview Aug. 17 with America magazine, the bishop said the interests of “the common good” made the mandate necessary.

“We have to be promoting the common good, and this is the one of the ways that we do it,” Bishop Stowe told the magazine. “And the individual reasons for not accepting [vaccinations]—the conspiracy theories and all the other stuff that keeps people from getting the vaccine and even the confusion that’s been put forth by many Catholic sources — is just not a good enough reason to not accept the vaccine for the common good.”

Video footage of the announcement at Saturday’s Mass touched off a heated debate on social media. Critics of the policy said it violates the privacy rights of clergy and is insensitive to the rights of the seriously ill to receive the sacraments.

“This unfortunately is my bishop and I attended the Mass where this was announced,” one commentator posted on Instagram. “It was a complete public shaming and absolutely a violation of privacy!”

Others, however, applauded the move, saying it was justified in light of the pandemic’s threat to public health.

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