Bishop Anthony B. Taylor issued a statement July 26 about returning to mandatory mask-wearing during Masses and parish events. Arkansas topped the nation for new COVID-19 cases per capita. The state’s seven-day average of new cases is up more than 287 percent from a month ago. The virus is mainly sparing vaccinated people from the most severe illness.
The statement reads:
“ I have recently been asked whether the Diocese of Little Rock should re-impose restrictions such as mandatory mask-wearing, physical distancing and disinfection of surfaces in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, 85 percent of which involve the highly infectious delta variant. It has been suggested that since only 40 percent of Arkansans have been vaccinated, we need to do something to protect the other 60 percent, many of whom could be vaccinated but refuse.
“It is important to note that with the universal availability of effective vaccines, the present threat is much different from that which occasioned the restrictions when COVID-19 first became a threat. Now, other than people with a medical condition that disqualifies them, anyone above age 12 can readily be vaccinated at no cost to themselves. As for those below age 12, for whatever reason, there have been very few serious cases involving younger children who may have some degree of natural immunity. The vaccine is effective in preventing most infections, even of the delta variant, and vaccinated people who do become ill generally experience a much milder case than otherwise. Moreover, the vaccines are the best way to minimize the degree to which the virus can keep mutating. The vaccine's connection with abortion-derived fetal cell lines is very remote, and our cooperation with such acts via receiving the vaccine is passive (no active cooperation), and so the Vatican has declared their use ‘morally acceptable’ given the grave danger of the pandemic. Therefore, everyone who can be vaccinated has been repeatedly and strongly encouraged to do so -- not only by me but also even by Pope Francis-and so in the end, those who fail to do so have to be willing to accept the consequences of their decision.
“Diocesan policy will not be dictated by those who, despite strong and clear encouragement, refuse to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and others. So, for now, the only restriction that remains in place diocesan-wide is that the Precious Blood will continue not to be distributed to the faithful at Mass.
“Having said that, given the principle of subsidiarity, individual parishes are free to take steps to address the threat locally. This could include making mask-wearing mandatory at one of their Masses or setting aside one section of the nave for physical distancing and the exclusive use of mask-wearing participants.”
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