18th September 2021
Extract from a letter by Kanishka Raffel, Archbishop of Sydney against vaccine mandates
I have the full letter of 3 September 2021 with me – but am only publishing the information that is in the public domain, e.g. at https://www.facebook.com/StPetersSouthTamworth/posts/4122712551159459.
“Meeting with the Minister for Health
Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with the Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant. Also in the meeting were Roman Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, the President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Lesli Berger and the President of the Australian National Imams Council, Sheikh Shadi Alsuleiman. The meeting came in response to the letter signed by the four of us last week.
We expressed our thanks and appreciation to the Minister and Dr Chant for their efforts in protecting the people of NSW. We reiterated that restraints on the freedom to worship were inconsistent with inalienable rights and had been accepted by religious communities as part of a united response to the health crisis, but should be lifted as soon as possible. In addition, the restrictions are taking a toll on many people at a time when the comfort and assistance of their faith and faith community is most in need, and worship should be considered an ‘essential’ service.
The Minister and Dr Chant expressed appreciation for the support and work of religious communities throughout this period, and invited us to continue to liaise with them about plans for opening up.
Online media has engaged with the possibility of vaccine passports for places of worship. As far as I am aware there is no jurisdiction in the world that has introduced such a measure in relation to places of worship, nor have I heard such a thing being suggested by government leaders in Australia.
The Minister gave no indication whether this was under consideration however Anthony Fisher and I both strongly put the case that mandating vaccination for attendance at Christian places of worship was something we could not support. In my view, such a step would be contrary to the nature of the gospel, the church and our mission.
I also took the opportunity to suggest that on grounds of equity and social cohesion mandatory vaccination requirements should be strictly limited in terms of both sphere of application and duration. I warned that there was a real risk of entrenching inequity and creating deep discontent by widespread or enduring practices of mandated vaccination.
If it is helpful, you may share this with members of your congregation, although it may not alleviate the concerns of those who are already subject to mandatory requirements in health and education. Where people have issues of conscience, this needs to be respected, but you should also do what you can to inform people so they are not unduly burdened in ways that Scripture does not require.
While not supporting the idea of a ‘vaccine passport’ for entry into Christian places of worship, we made clear that we have been and remain committed to ensuring that our churches are safe for all who attend. The vast majority (over 85%) of those who were hospitalised in NSW at the beginning of August were unvaccinated. I am aware that some people have ethical and other concerns about vaccines, and they are entitled to decline vaccination while these concerns are not addressed to their satisfaction.
At the same time, such concerns must be weighed against the ethics of remaining unvaccinated, including the risk of contracting the disease and requiring hospitalisation oneself, or infecting a loved one or someone who is vulnerable. Neither ‘side’ of this debate can claim the ‘moral high ground’. We are frail and fallible creatures and the assertion of moral certitude in this area is out of place.
The issues to be addressed by local churches are numerous. They include ensuring that people are safe when they attend church and that those who cannot or choose not to attend are able to access ministry online or in some other way. Churches will need to pray and work against the mischief making of the evil one so that differences of opinion in relation to vaccination do not become a source of division, anger or unkindness towards those for whom Christ died.”