The Roman Catholic bishop of Calgary and some of his parishioners are at odds over precautions the church has taken to prevent spread of swine flu.
To reduce the risk of transmitting the H1N1 virus, Bishop Fred Henry earlier this year ordered a change in the communion ceremony, saying the communion wafer should be placed in the worshipper’s hands — not in his or her mouth.
In a letter Nov. 25, the bishop told members of St. Anthony’s that receiving communion exclusively by the mouth is not a church dogma, nor absolute, and that the church would follow recommendations of health officials to prevent spread of the virus.
But some parishioners say the change in protocol does not conform with their practice of the traditional Latin mass, and have refused to comply.
The bishop countered by suspending the Latin mass at St. Anthony’s altogether until Alberta’s chief medical health officer says the swine flu risk has passed.
"You have a reaction that ranges from sadness, and tears and weeping, all the way to outright anger and disappointment at what appears to be a form of disobedience on the part of the bishop," said parishioner Henry Kutarna. He said the Vatican, not the local bishop, is the only authority who can suspend mass.
Henry, meantime, said he has the authority to decide what happens at the diocese.
"I am perfectly within my right to say to them, 'OK, for the time being then, if you cannot accept that communion can also be received in the hand, then I have no other option but to suspend the celebration of the Latin mass temporarily until this pandemic passes,'" he said.
"In an emergency situation, we will sacrifice a personal preference for the sake of the over-arching well-being of the whole people."