“There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” he said.
“The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”
The mandate does not apply to clergy not working at the Catholic Center, though Bishop Stowe has encouraged pastors to adopt the same policy in their parishes. In an interview Aug. 17 with America magazine, the bishop said the interests of "the common good" made the mandate necessary.
“We have to be promoting the common good, and this is the one of the ways that we do it,” Bishop Stowe told the magazine. “And the individual reasons for not accepting [vaccinations]—the conspiracy theories and all the other stuff that keeps people from getting the vaccine and even the confusion that’s been put forth by many Catholic sources — is just not a good enough reason to not accept the vaccine for the common good.”
Video footage of the announcement at Saturday's Mass touched off a heated debate on social media. Critics of the policy said it violates the privacy rights of clergy and is insensitive to the rights of the seriously ill to receive the sacraments.
"This unfortunately is my bishop and I attended the Mass where this was announced," one commentator posted on Instagram. "It was a complete public shaming and absolutely a violation of privacy!"
Others, however, applauded the move, saying it was justified in light of the pandemic's threat to public health.
"You get the vaccine to protect and care for others, as Jesus taught us, so that you greatly reduce the risk of contracting the virus and passing it to those who will suffer horribly," another commentator wrote on Twitter. "Some will die. God sent us this miracle of science."
Others argued that the diocese's policy prohibiting unvaccinated clergy from ministering to the sick, elderly, homebound is consistent with guidance provided by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
"Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent," the CDF statement reads. "In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable."
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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday that Kentucky currently ranks third in the nation for the highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases per capita, with a seven-day average of approximately 90 new cases reported per 100,000 people.
This article has been updated with additional information on Sept. 15.