It noted the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on conscience, saying, “if a Catholic comes to an informed judgment that he or she should not receive a vaccine, then the Catholic Church requires that the person follow this judgment of conscience and refuse the vaccine.”
In Bishop McElroy’s view, the exemption letter asks a pastor “not to endorse what the Church does teach on the question, but rather what individuals might discern as their chosen pathway, even when their pathway is built upon a rejection of the Church’s objective teaching on the morality of the Covid vaccines.”
The exemption form’s moral analysis exclusively focuses “on the rights of the individual” and individual choice and personal benefit, rather than how these are to be balanced with “the pursuit of the common good in a time of pandemic,” said the San Diego bishop. Thus it presents “a radically incomplete picture of Catholic teaching.”
To sign the exemption letter, Bishop McElroy worried, would place priests in an “impossible position” which asserts that Catholic teaching may lead individual Catholics to decline certain vaccines “when those priests recognize that Catholic teaching proclaims just the opposite.”
On Aug. 13 the Colorado Catholic Conference said that bishops or clergy of Colorado cannot sign the letter for Catholics outside of Colorado dioceses. Instead, they should ask local clergy if they will sign the exemption letter.
The Colorado Catholic Conference’s exemption request letter cites multiple Catholic authorities. Among its references is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Dec. 17, 2020 note on the morality of vaccines. The congregation’s 2008 instruction Dignitas personae is also cited, as is the Pontifical Academy for Life’s 2005 document “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services are also referenced.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in December stated that the use of the vaccines with connections to the questionable cell lines is “morally acceptable,” but added that Catholics should seek “ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines” when available.
The congregation stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” The congregation acknowledged “reasons of conscience” for those refusing a vaccine.
In a television interview in January, Pope Francis said, “I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.”
As of June, about 80% of adult Catholics nationwide say they have gotten a COVID-19 vaccination or will do so as soon as possible, according to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. The Catholic acceptance rate was somewhat higher than the general population, about 71% of whom accept the vaccine. About 62% of adults been fully vaccinated, while 72% have received at least one shot, the New York Times reports.
The novel coronavirus has killed 620,000 people in the US. Public health authorities are concerned that new variants are more contagious and could cause surges in hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated.
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Catholic bishops have taken different approaches to mandatory vaccination.
In a July 30 memo, the New York archdiocese instructed priests not to grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that doing so would contradict the pope and inaccurately portray Church instructions.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso on Aug. 6 said that all Church employees and ministry volunteers must be vaccinated. He cited the need for the Catholic Church to “lead by example” and to act responsibly to protect others during the coronavirus pandemic,
South Dakota’s Catholic bishops in an Aug. 10 joint statement backed voluntary vaccination and voiced support for any Catholic seeking a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate.
The Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center, which provides guidance on medical ethics to Catholic institutions, has criticized vaccination mandates and warns that they can place undue pressure on individuals without robust medical, religious and conscience exemptions. It lists a form letter on its website for individual Catholics seeking religious exemptions from vaccine mandates.