The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has said it is not providing religious exemption letters to individuals who object to receiving a vaccination against the coronavirus.

In a terse statement, the archdiocese said it “recommends that all members of the Catholic community who can receive a COVID-19 vaccine should do so. The Archdiocese is not providing individuals with religious exemption letters to avoid vaccination against COVID-19. Please see the information and links below to understand why the Archdiocese does not consider the COVID-19 vaccine to be morally objectionable and why it encourages all the faithful to get vaccinated.”

The statement to archdiocesan priests, obtained by CNA, included a two sentence quote from a document of the US bishops’ conference, and provided links to three documents that “might be helpful in understanding the morality of receiving the vaccine:” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s December 2020 note; a March 2021 USCCB document; and a statement from the California Catholic Conference.

In its December 2020 note to which the Los Angeles archdiocese pointed, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that although vaccines with a remote connection to abortion are “morally acceptable,” it also 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, while at the same time noting: “In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.” 

Those refusing COVID-19 vaccines “for reasons of conscience” must take appropriate precautions to avoid transmitting the virus, the congregation said.

US bishops have issued varied statements on whether there is an obligation to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The bishops in Colorado in an Aug. 6 letter emphasized the need to respect those with conscientious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines and have provided a template letter for any Catholics with objections to mandatory vaccination. The bishops of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo also welcomed the City of Denver’s vaccination mandate for including a religious exemption.

“In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are convicted that the government should not impose medical interventions on an individual or group of persons. We urge respect for each person’s convictions and personal choices,” the Colorado Catholic Conference said.

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The conference noted its previous affirmation that the use of some COVID-19 vaccines is “morally acceptable under certain circumstances,” while adding that “we understand that some individuals have well-founded convictions that lead them to discern they should not get vaccinated.”

“We always remain vigilant when any bureaucracy seeks to impose uniform and sweeping requirements on a group of people in areas of personal conscience,” said the bishops, adding, “human rights violations and a loss of respect for each person’s God-given dignity often begin with government mandates that fail to respect the freedom of conscience.”

The Colorado Catholic Conference on its website provided a template letter for pastors for Catholics who are seeking a religious exemption.

Similarly, the bishops of South Dakota said this week that Catholics whose well-formed consciences tell them not to receive a vaccine should be free to seek a religious exemption from any vaccine mandate. 

“[A] Catholic may, after consideration of relevant information and moral principles, discern it to be right or wrong to receive one of the available Covid-19 vaccines,” Bishops Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls and Peter Muhich of Rapid City said in a statement Aug. 10. 

“If he or she thus comes to the sure conviction in conscience that they should not receive it, we believe this is a sincere religious belief, as they are bound before God to follow their conscience. We support any Catholic who has come to this conviction in seeking religious exemption from any Covid-19 requirement.”

In December 2020, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas told EWTN's Pro-Life Weekly that regarding whether to receive the Covid vaccine, "I think, like in everything, we need to pray. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and to make the right choice, the moral choice for us. And we have to weigh these goods: the good of protecting our health, the health of our loved ones, the health of the community."

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"And also at the same time, stand strongly to protect innocent human life and to bring an end to the culture of death and to abortion," he said.

Archbishop Naumann said that while there is a "moral justification" to receiving the vaccine, "not everyone has to make that decision." He said the available Covid vaccines are "licit and permissible," though not obligatory.

The Archdiocese of New York on July 30 instructed priests not to grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that doing so would contradict the pope.

By issuing a religious exemption to the vaccine, the archdiocese said, a priest would be “acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope and is participating in an act that could have serious consequences to others. Imagine a student receiving a religious exemption, contracting the virus and spreading it throughout the campus. Clearly this would be an embarrassment to the archdiocese.”

In California, the bishops of both San Diego and Monterey have said their local Churches will not sign religious exemption letters from coronavirus vaccine mandates.

Bishop McElroy of San Diego wrote that an 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.”