Catholic parish bans Confession for unvaccinated, reverses course after bishop steps in
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MONMOUTH BEACH, New Jersey, March 29, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic parish in New Jersey announced this week that it would only allow those who had been vaccinated to receive the sacrament of Confession. After LifeSiteNews began investigating the matter this morning, reaching out to the parish priest and the local bishop for comment, the parish suddenly altered course and will now allow confessions for everyone.
The Church of the Precious Blood in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, where Father Michael Sullivan is pastor, originally stated on its website this week that confessions are “now available for those who are vaccinated” after the loosening of COVID-related restrictions.
“Only those vaccinated may come to the Sacrament of Penance in order to protect yourself, and more importantly, to protect others in case you are asymptomatic and contagious,” the website originally stated.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Bishop David O’Connel of the New Jersey Diocese of Trenton, where the Precious Blood parish is located, for comment on Father Sullivan making the vaccine jab a prerequisite to receiving a sacrament. Within 2 hours, the diocese’s spokesperson Rayanne Bennett responded with the following statement: “The question regarding Confession in Precious Blood Parish was brought to the attention of the Diocese this morning, March 29, and was immediately reviewed by the Vicar General, the Chancellor and the Director of Worship.”
“The Vicar General promptly informed the pastor that he cannot put that condition on reception of the Sacrament of Penance. No one is obliged to take the COVID vaccine. The pastor indicated that he would comply, and the parish website has been updated. All the priests of the Diocese were informed through ‘Diocesan Pandemic Directives’ in September 2020 that ‘as has been the case throughout the pandemic, Confession continues to be available as needed,’” she added.
The website of Precious Blood parish now states: “Confessions Are Now Available.”
Now that Fr. Mike has been vaccinated, the Sacrament of Penance will be available in two ways:
For those who have not been vaccinated, in the sanctuary of the church, face to face.
For those who have been vaccinated, in the confessional where confession can take place anonymously.
Canon lawyer Father Gerald E. Murray, a pastor in New York who is a regular commentator on EWTN, called the parish’s original restriction “unjust,” noting how it goes against the Church’s law when it comes to the faithful receiving the sacraments.
The Code of Canon law states that “Sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them” (843,1). It furthermore states that “All to whom by virtue of office the care of souls is committed are bound to provide for the hearing of the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them, who reasonably request confession, and they are to provide these faithful with an opportunity to make individual confession on days and at times arranged to suit them. In an urgent necessity, every confessor is bound to hear the confessions of Christ's faithful, and in danger of death every priest is so obliged."
“The restrictive policy of hearing confessions only of those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 violates these canons,” Fr. Murray told LifeSiteNews.
“The faithful have the right to approach their pastor or another priest for the sacrament of penance and that right must not be denied. Vaccination is not the only means for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask wearing combined with social distancing and adequate ventilation has been safely used to allow the faithful to have the opportunity to receive the sacrament of penance. Priests have also heard confession outdoors to provide the greatest possible safety.”
“Since vaccinations are not yet offered to large segments of the population, many people would be denied their right to receive the sacrament of penance through no fault of their own. This restriction is unjust given that the stated aim of preventing COVID-19 transmission can be achieved through the practices noted above,” he added.
Precious Blood’s initial announcement banning Confession for the unvaccinated also failed to take into account people who already have immunity from the coronavirus from a past infection, pregnant women who won’t take the jab because of the many reported miscarriages it has caused, and people who are allergic to ingredients in the shot. The coronavirus jab, which has only been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and not full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is also not approved for children; they are currently ineligible for the shot.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Father Michael Sullivan, pastor of the Church of the Precious Blood, to ask why he had made the original ban on Confession to those who weren’t vaccinated.
“My take is the way that some parishes have been doing confessions either puts people at risk because they are not sanitizing the place where each penitent comes up to, they’re not sanitizing the chair, they’re not sanitizing that side of the screen, or, it’s way open, and there’s a big lack of privacy,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Fr. Sullivan said that when he began to receive pushback from people who were telling him that he cannot keep people from the sacraments, he told them: “When we had the lockdown, that is exactly what we did, to keep people safe.”
It seemed logical to him to move from a mask mandate to a vaccination mandate.
“People can’t go to Mass and receive the sacraments unless they wear a mask. People who refuse to wear a mask, there is no sacrament for them,” he said.
When LifeSiteNews asked Fr. Sullivan if, in his opinion, pursuing “bodily safety” by means of COVID protocols was more important than “spiritual safety,” he immediately replied that “bodily safety” was more important.
“It’s immoral to put people’s lives in danger,” he said.
“I really really want to make the sacraments available, but I also really really want people to be safe. It then becomes a question of where do you draw the line in protecting people’s health, and maybe even their life, and providing the sacraments.”
Guidance from the Catholic Church on the morality of using COVID-19 vaccines allows the faithful the option of seeking a religious exemption from vaccines, especially those tainted by abortion.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in December of 2020 that “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
“In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one's own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”
Precious Blood parish also boasts an “LGBT Faith Sharing Ministry.”
“The Church of the Precious Blood's LGBT Faith Sharing Ministry welcomes and supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholic persons, their family and friends,” the parish website says. “We will share our faith through prayer, social justice and dialogue.”
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