CV NEWS FEED // The U.S. bishops have divided over whether to support religious exemptions for Catholics seeking to avoid mandated Covid-19 vaccines.
While some bishops like Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York have forbidden priests from granting the religious exemption that various laws allow to vaccine mandates, others have encouraged their clergy to consider and grant the requests.
In a joint letter published Aug. 6 on the Archdiocese of Denver website, Colorado’s four Catholic bishops upheld the right of Catholic laypeople to refuse a vaccine on the grounds of conscience. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, Bishop Stephen J. Berg of Pueblo, Bishop James R. Golka of Colorado Springs, and Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver said that while some of the vaccines remain “morally acceptable under certain circumstances,” nevertheless “the government should not impose medical interventions on an individual or group of persons.”
“We understand that some individuals have well-founded convictions that lead them to discern they should not get vaccinated,” the bishops wrote in their statement. “We are pleased to see that in the case of the most recent Denver vaccine mandate there is accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs. This is appropriate under the laws protecting freedom of religion.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have encouraged Catholics to receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine because an abortion-based stem cell line was used only in their testing, but not in their production, unlike the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. However, the U.S. bishops and Vatican have said that any vaccine remains morally permissible if no others are available.
The Vatican’s guidance has stated that any clinically proven Covid-19 vaccine “can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”
Because local bishops retain full authority to interpret and implement these guidelines from the USCCB and Vatican, Catholics in a diocese that forbids them from receiving a legally permitted religious exemption to vaccination may theoretically get one from a neighboring diocese.
Catholic teaching opposes the use of embryonic stem-cell research in medical research because it regularly involves the intentional creation and description of a human life for testing purposes, providing the most obvious reason why a Catholic might choose for moral reasons not to receive a vaccine.
Earlier this year, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans joined other U.S. prelates in warning the people of his diocese to avoid the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for this reason, dividing them from fellow bishops who feared that any instruction to avoid one vaccine might encourage Catholic anti-vaxxers to not get a shot at all.
A Feb. 26 statement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans communications office stated:
“We maintain that the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider. We also maintain that in no way does the Church’s position diminish the wrongdoing of those who decided to use cell lines from abortions to make vaccines. In doing so, we advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”
Some Catholics may not wish to get any vaccine because of the use of embryonic stem cells at any stage of development. They may also have other reasons to avoid getting vaccinated.
Nevertheless, bishops opposing religious exemptions for vaccination, including prominent progressive Robert McElroy of San Diego, have contended that the guidance from the USCCB and Vatican provides no moral justification for any Catholic to request one.
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