Australian state reverses COVID ban on Last Rites, senior politician apologizes for regulation
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MELBOURNE, Australia, September 14, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Victoria’s senior politician has apologized and reversed government regulations banning administration of the Last Rites to those nearing death.
State premier Daniel Andrews, who is spearheading Victoria’s draconian lockdown regime, said during a press conference last week that there has been “a little bit of confusion” about the administration of sacraments for those nearing death and that the government’s website would soon be updated.
When Andrews made the remarks last week, the Victorian government website clearly stated that under the “Stage 4 restrictions” in place in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, “faith leaders cannot visit someone in their home (or in a hospital or care facility) for last rites or to perform other religious ceremonies in person” and that “[l]ast rites and religious ceremonies can be provided using video or livestreaming.”
Andrews has now said it is “completely permissible” for the Last Rites to be administered in person.
“In the broadest of terms, last rites and similar sacraments are, in fact, allowed and we obviously apologize if there’s been any confusion about that matter,” Andrews said.
Monsignor Charles Portelli told journalist Tess Livingstone of The Australian newspaper that he and others priests have been administering the Last Rites despite the regulations.
Portelli said that providing the sacraments to the dying is one of a priest’s most serious obligations and cannot be done via “livestream.”
“It is given one of the highest priorities in church law and can only be done in person, not virtually,’’ he said.
Portelli also stressed that those close to death have “a most profound need for human contact.”
“They can feel very lonely,” he said. “This is the least we can do. The people support their priests in so many ways. We must be there when they need us most.’’
Portelli said hospital staff in Melbourne have helped priests with protective clothing, with some priests administering the Last Rites while wearing personal protective clothing.
Melbourne archbishop Peter Comensoli told The Australian that he had been unaware of the ban on the Last Rites but had subsequently sought “urgent clarification’’ from the government. While announcing the reversal of the policy, Andrews said that he had been in contact with Comensoli. Andrews said he wanted to tell people of all faiths that he understands that “2020 has been a very difficult year” and thanked faith leaders for their engagement with the government.
Monsignor Portelli also emphasized the devastating impact of the lockdown restrictions on the Church and society at large.
“The normal activities which promote social cohesion have all been suspended,” he said. “Sporting activities, the business of education, the simple pleasures of meeting friends and acquaintances, the celebration of important family milestones; these can only exist within the parameters of a screen or mobile phone.”
Noting that even during world wars, churches were not closed indefinitely, Portelli explained that Victoria residents have no idea if or when things will return to normal.
“There is a possibility that five people may be able to gather outside near a place of worship at the end of September. However ‘religious ceremonies’ are forbidden,” he said.
“This number increases to ten people at the end of October. This depends on there being a very limited number of new infections over the preceding weeks. By the end of November the number of attendees may increase to a limited number. This remains undefined in the regulations. Curiously, and inexplicably, baptisms are specifically prohibited. It seems likely that Christmas Mass will be a very quiet affair.”