By Jonah McKeown
The Catholic bishops of Quebec, while registering their opposition to the province’s imposition of COVID-19 vaccine passports as a requirement to attend religious services, said this week that they accept the requirement for now, and continue to petition the government to end it.
“[I]t seems reasonable to us in the present circumstances to accept certain compromises that contribute to the safety and health of all,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 3 statement.
“For the moment, we accept that vaccination passports are required to access worship spaces, even if this measure upsets us deeply. However, we remain in contact with government authorities to remind them that this requirement goes against our beliefs and to ensure that it will be lifted as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Quebec’s vaccine passport system, whereby an electronic record functions as a pass for vaccinated individuals to access certain places or activities, has been in place since Sept. 1, 2021.
The bishops noted that Dignitatis humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, said that the human person has a right to religious freedom, whereby “no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to their own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”
The bishops qualified their statement by noting that religious freedom “may exceptionally be subject to temporary restrictions for the common good.”
Under Quebec Premier François Legault’s staggered reopening plan, houses of worship were reopened Feb. 7. By Feb. 21, places of worship will be allowed to operate in Quebec at 50% capacity with a maximum of 500 people, with the vaccine passport system.
The current numerical limit is 250 people, and attendees at religious services must stay in their seat and not move around, the guidance reads.
Most COVID restrictions will be lifted by March 14 under the current plan, excepting the province’s mask mandate and its vaccine passport system.
The bishops said that in meetings of a statewide interreligious council, they have “insisted” that people attending Mass be exempted from the requirement of the vaccination passport, “aware as we are of the negative effects of its imposition on our communities.”
“We recognize that many faithful believe that this requirement constitutes an intolerable discrimination that deprives unvaccinated people of their right to religious freedom. This exclusion seems to them to be incompatible with the very essence of a community of believers, called to be welcoming, compassionate and open to diversity,” the bishops wrote.
Over 85% of Quebec residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of the start of the year. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Quebec have dropped from 3,400 to 2,400 in the past three weeks, Legault says.
Legault announced a health tax on the unvaccinated in January. A curfew was lifted the same month.
Other Canadian provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, recently announced plans to end their vaccination passport systems and mask mandates.