“Receiving any of the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable for Catholics in light of the pandemic and since ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are unavailable,” the archdiocese noted.
Portland’s approach is similar to that of Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly, who wrote last week that Catholic schools in the diocese will be expected to comply with Washington state’s vaccine mandate, and any Catholic seeking an exemption “places the burden on the individual’s conscience rather than on Church approval.”
In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love."
Bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates.
Some, such as the bishops of South Dakota and of Colorado, have explicitly expressed support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions, while in contrast, many bishops in California, as well as in Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, stating that there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds.
The Chicago archdiocese, along with the Diocese of El Paso, has introduced its own vaccine mandate for employees. An additional email sent Aug. 20 to staff and clergy of the Archdiocese of Chicago explained that an unvaccinated employee who contracts COVID-19 will have to use their sick or personal time to cover a 10-day quarantine; vaccinated employees will instead be given 10 additional sick days.
The five bishops of Wisconsin last week issued a statement encouraging vaccination against COVID-19, while maintaining that people ought not be forced to accept a COVID vaccine. The bishops added that, in the cases of Catholics conscientiously objecting to receiving a vaccine, clergy should not be intervening on their behalf.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, has been vocal about its opposition to mandatory immunization for COVID-19. While acknowledging that reception of COVID-19 vaccines is morally permissible, the center has maintained support for the rights of Catholics to refuse the vaccines because of conscience-based concerns.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.