Friday, December 26, 2003

Church Moves to Protect Public Health

Annoyed as heck by stories like this, I thought I'd write my own.


BOSTON (AnnoyingPress) - The Boston Archdiocese is asking parishioners who are dying to forgo long-standing traditions -- including the last rites - to avoid spreading their illnesses.

The request, made in a memo sent to all churches in the nation's fourth largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, follows similar moves in some western states hit hard by people dying.

"While at this time we do not advocate refraining from offering the last rites, we made suggestions that anyone who had symptoms of death or who would be vulnerable to death refrain," archdiocesan spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne told the Boston Herald for its editions Wednesday, one day before Christmas.

The practice of gathering family around a death-bed is also being discouraged. The memo suggests "a telephone call or a note of condolence would be gracious and fitting" for those who do not wish to be near dying people.

Federal health officials have described death as a serious public health problem. According to the Center for Disease Control at least 2.5 million people died in the United States in 2002, many of them from illnesses. A lower amount of death isn't expected anytime soon, experts say.

Earlier this month, Catholic church officials in parts of the San Francisco area abandoned communion procedures including sharing a chalice of wine and placing wafers on parishioners' tongues to avoid spreading the flu.

The dioceses of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Reno, Nevada, sent letters suggesting other ways to offer Communion, such as distributing wafers in hermetically-sealed plastic wrappers called "Theosis Paks."

"We feel confident that these measures will allow Catholics to avoid contact with the sick and dying," said Fr. Prophylaxis of the Damien De Veuster Center for Liturgical Hygiene in Palo Alto, California, which developed the "Theosis Pak" or "TP" for short. "A Catholic Church should be a place of worship, not a plague vector or a concern to public health. TPs will help the Church keep that focus," he said.

But some officials see ways for the Church to do more. "We've come a long way from the Catholic Church that killed Galileo," said Frieda Hoyt-Tasselhoff, deputy public health assistant for the City of Boston, "but there's still a long way to go." She referred to the Catholic practice of bringing animals into Church for religious rites honoring Francis Assisi, a medieval monk, and the practice of dunking numerous infants in the same pool of cold water without procedures in place to prevent the spread of disease among the children. "We look forward to more dialogue and an eventual partnership with the Church to protect the public," she said.

Officials at the Archdiocese could not be reached for comment. They had called in sick.

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