Clarification on last rites in Melbourne

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Melbourne Archbishop Peter A Comensoli. PHOTO: ACBC

Premier apologises for “impossible” restrictions advice

Melbourne’s Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has welcomed confirmation from Premier Daniel Andrews that the city’s Catholic priests are not breaching its stage-four restrictions in administering sacraments at the end of life.

The Victorian Premier apologised today for the “confusion” around priests visiting the dying and confirmed that they are allowed to administer the last rites (also known as the sacrament of anointing) in person.

“In relation to sacraments at the end of a person’s life I know and understand, and the government knows and understands, how critically important that is for many people of faith and their families,” Mr Andrews told a press conference.

Archbishop Comensoli sought urgent clarification from Mr Andrews this morning after learning that the frequently asked questions section of the Department of Health and Human Services website included information saying that under stage-four restrictions, faith leaders could not visit someone in their home, a hospital or aged care facility “for last rites or to perform other religious ceremonies in person”.

“Last rites and religoius ceremonies can be provided using video or livestreaming,” the advice read.

Catholic clergy had not been made aware of any such restrictions, with Monsignor Charles Portelli telling media that administering sacraments to the dying remotely was “impossible”.

“There was a little bit of confusion about this and we’ll have some updated Frequently Asked Questions and other details on the [Department of Health and Human Services] website very soon,” Mr Andrews said.

“Under the care and compassion grounds it is completely permissible for you to have a minister, priest, rabbi, whoever it might be to come and administer those end of life sacraments.

“There will always be some finer details in the way individual hospitals have got their own rules in place. Those rules are there to protect staff and protect patients, but in the broadest of terms last rites and similar sacraments are allowed and I apologise if there has been any confusion on that matter.”

Archbishop Comensoli said it is a “deeply felt matter for Catholics, and other people of faith, that they may have access to prayer and sacraments in their most vulnerable moment in life”.

“I am grateful that the Premier has acted quickly in rectifying things.”

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