Both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops' conference have said that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible when recipients have no other ethical option due to the gravity of the pandemic. Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love." In December 2020, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note stating that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible but "must be voluntary"; the note recognized "reasons of conscience" for refusing vaccines.
Bishops across the country have issued guidance for Catholics seeking conscience exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Some bishops, including the bishops of South Dakota, have supported Catholics who wish to seek conscience exemptions. Bishops in California, as well as in Chicago and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions to mandates.
In an Aug. 17 statement, the NCBC noted “with great sadness the increasingly heated rhetoric and even violence associated with the vaccine mandate debates.”
The center stated that “The Church encourages people to receive vaccination for COVID-19, even though the currently available vaccines in the U.S. have a remote connection to abortion through the use of certain cell lines.”
“Discernment with consciences informed by Church teaching is required, as well as all the elements of free and informed consent needed for any medical intervention,” the center affirmed.
On March 30, in an analysis of the morality of COVID-19 vaccination, the center said that “people must carefully discern in conscience whether or when to be immunized against COVID-19 and which vaccine to accept.”
On July 7, the center issued a vaccine exemption template letter for Catholics “who have made a sure judgment in conscience to refuse a vaccine.”
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.