Austria bishops praise ‘willingness to be vaccinated’ as part of ‘Christian responsibility’
VIENNA, Austria, November 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic bishops of Austria believe that being injected with a vaccine against Covid-19 is a form of Christian responsibility.
In a statement released at the end of their autumn plenary assembly on Friday, the Austrian Bishops’ Conference said “Christian responsibility” should manifest itself during the coronavirus pandemic as “personal responsibility, consideration, and solidarity.”
“The willingness to be vaccinated is an expression of this attitude," the bishops wrote.
“We are still in the midst of a pandemic with enormous personal, social and economic implications,” they continued. “There must be no lockdown of hearts and help.”
The bishops indicated that they believe recent news points “encouraging indications that there could be an effective and safe vaccination against the infection in the foreseeable future.”
On Monday, November 9, shortly after the U.S. elections, BioNTech and parent company Pfizer announced that they had developed a viable “vaccine candidate” against Covid-19.
Echoing a May statement by Pope Francis, the Austrian bishops said coronavirus vaccines should be made available worldwide at reasonable prices. They condemned any national hoarding of vaccines or economic interests interfering with its accessibility by the poor.
However, they also stated that there are those who should get first crack at the vaccine, that is, people whose professions bring them in constant contact with infected people or who are otherwise particularly vulnerable.
In the bishops' statement, they also published their wishes, which they described as a “responsible contribution” regarding restrictions on Catholic worship in Austria. Going above and beyond the government’s own requirements, the Austrian bishops required Catholics to stand 1.5 metres (4 feet, 9 inches) apart at all church services, whether indoors or outdoors, and to wear masks. In addition, all baptisms, first communions, confirmations, and weddings will be postponed.
“With these restrictions, the bishops want to make a responsible contribution to overcoming the crisis,” they said in their statement.
“At the same time, this ensures that the essential basic practices of faith continue to be possible," the bishops continued.
Catholic believe that baptism is one of the most important activities of the Church and that all unmarried Catholics who have no impediment to marriage have a canonical right to marry. However, in their statement, the bishops concentrated on other forms of “pastoral care.”
“The bishops gratefully perceive that the great majority of the faithful try in these difficult times to combine the necessary measures with great spiritual confidence and active love," they wrote.
“There is great commitment in pastoral care for the sick and the elderly, in pastoral care by telephone, at Caritas and auxiliary institutions, and also in schools.”
The bishops added that religious freedom is very important and particularly protected by the Austrian constitution.
"Interferences with this basic right, such as suspending public services, are so serious that they have to be very well founded in order not to be unconstitutional,” they wrote.
"That is why the churches and religious societies have been working very closely with the state authorities since the beginning of the pandemic when it comes to measures to restrict religious freedom in the face of the pandemic.”
But Viennese Catholic Alexander Tschugguel, known primarily for removing images identified with the Andean goddess Pachamama from a Roman church and throwing them in the Tiber, sees things differently. He told LifeSiteNews that shortly after making their statement, the Austrian bishops banned all public Masses.
“The head of our Bishops’ Conference, the Primas Germaniae (Primate of German-speaking countries), Archbishop Franz Lackner, said on Friday that there would be a church lockdown only (as a last resort),” Tschugguel said via email.
“Only 24 hours later, he said that there won't be any public masses up until St. Nicholas’ Day. This is a 360 degree turn within 24 hours. What a disgrace!”
Tschugguel told LifeSiteNews that he is “opposed” to what his nation’s Catholic bishops have said. He feels that the bishops misunderstand their primary responsibility as Christians.
“It is a matter of Christian responsibility to take care of other people's salvation," he said. “Therefore, it is absolutely against this responsibility to forbid public Holy Masses.”