Canadian diocese to close confessionals during flu pandemic

Catholics will not be able to receive communion on the tongue and no confessions will be allowed in enclosed confessionals, according to draft influenza pandemic guidelines prepared by a Canadian diocese.

Canadian Catholic News reports that in an endeavour to be ready for a pandemic disaster, the Diocese of Edmonton is working on guidelines that also stipulate that confession is to be held with the confessor and penitent sitting at least a meter apart, each wearing face masks.

In a worst-case scenario, church services would be cancelled altogether.

Those are just some of the stipulations laid out in a draft of Archdiocesan Influenza Pandemic Planning Guidelines now being circulated.

"The only thing tougher than planning for a disaster is explaining why you didn't," said Rita Sandmaier, the pastoral-care minister who drew up the draft guidelines.

The world is currently in a pandemic alert phase for the Avian flu H5N1 virus. In 2006, there were 116 cases of the Avian flu reported around the world, resulting in 80 deaths. About half of those cases were in Indonesia, with growing numbers in Egypt and China.

The disease is still being transmitted only from animals to humans. But if it mutates and begins being spread among humans, then a pandemic will be underway, Sandmaier said.

Each of the three pandemics of the 20th century was different.

The Spanish flu of 1918-19 killed 40 to 50 million people. It mainly affected young healthy adults.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957-58 led to between 1 and 2 million deaths. Infection rates were highest among school children, young adults and pregnant women.

The Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 killed about 700,000 people worldwide. Those over 65 years of age were most likely to die.

"We hope that (the Avian flu) never mutates, but you never know," Sandmaier said.

"Statistically, we are due for a pandemic."

In fact, experts predict another influenza pandemic will occur within the next five to 10 years.

According to the draft Edmonton guidelines, a pandemic alert will mean many changes to slow the spread of the disease.

There will be no collection baskets, she said, because money tends to be dirty. Some churches plan to accept donations in locked boxes which remain closed for at least three days to give viruses time to die.

The distribution of Communion will be greatly affected under the proposed guidelines. Those who handle hosts prior to Mass will have to wear disposable gloves and masks.

As well, there will be no blessings given to non-communicants.

Under the draft guidelines, the church may move to "alternate forms of worship" for Sundays. Parishioners will be reminded of the duty to keep Sundays holy. If public gatherings are banned, a simple Liturgy of the Word will be distributed to parishioners.

Archdiocese prepares for flu pandemic, guidelines reveal Communion restrictions (Catholic Online, 16/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Flu Pandemic (US government)
Pandemic influenza - FAQ (Australian Department of Health)

Flu-stricken Pope lies low (CathNews, 23/2/05)

19 Feb 2007

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