By Matt Hadro
The Archdiocese of New York has instructed priests not to grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that do so would contradict the pope.
“There is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine,” stated a July 30 memo from the archdiocese’s chancellor, John P. Cahill, to all pastors, administrators, and parochial vicars in the archdiocese.
“Pope Francis has made it very clear that it is morally acceptable to take any of the vaccines and said we have the moral responsibility to get vaccinated. Cardinal Dolan has said the same,” the memo stated.
By issuing a religious exemption to the vaccine, 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,” the memo stated.
A screenshot of the memo was circulated on social media this weekend. CNA confirmed the memo’s accuracy with the archdiocese and with a priest of the archdiocese on Monday.
In a television interview in January, Pope Francis said, “I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.” In a December 2020 note, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” The Vatican congregation acknowledged “reasons of conscience” for those refusing a vaccine.
Vaccine mandates have begun to be announced at places of employment in the United States. The Catholic health care network Ascension will mandate coronavirus vaccination for employees, physicians, volunteers, and vendors, although it has promised some health-related and religious exemptions.
Some Catholic institutions have stated their support for conscience exemptions to vaccine mandates, or have provided materials for individuals with religious objections to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The National Catholic Bioethics Center lists a form letter on its website for individual Catholics seeking religious exemptions from vaccine mandates.
“The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a person may be required to refuse a medical intervention, including a vaccination, if his or her informed conscience comes to this sure judgment,” the letter states, adding that the Church “does not prohibit the use of any vaccine, and generally encourages the use of safe and effective vaccines as a way of safeguarding personal and public health.”
The Catholic Medical Association, a national network of Catholic doctors and health care workers, stated on July 28 that it “opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions.”
The New York archdiocese’s memo began by acknowledging the “sincere moral objection” of some individuals to receiving COVID-19 vaccines, “due to their connection to abortion.”
“This concern is particularly acute among people who are strongly pro-life and very loyal to the teaching of the faith,” the memo stated.
The archdiocese further stated, “Any individual is free to exercise discretion on getting the vaccine based upon his or her own beliefs without seeking the inaccurate portrayal of Church instructions.”
Priests, however, “should not be active participants to such actions” by granting religious exemptions, the memo stated.
“Imagine a student receiving a religious [vaccine] exemption, contracting the virus and spreading it throughout the campus. Clearly this would be an embarrassment to the archdiocese. Some even argue that it might impose personal liability on the priest,” the memo said.
Currently, three vaccines have been given an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – those produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While all three vaccines were tested on cell lines derived from elective abortions decades ago, only one of the vaccines – Johnson & Johnson – was directly produced using the controversial cell lines.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has stated that the use of the vaccines with connections to the questionable cell lines is “morally acceptable,” but that Catholics should seek “ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines” when available.
In its December 2020 note, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith further stated that vaccination must not be mandatory.
“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 congregation stated.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has stated that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use.
“[I]f one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen,” the USCCB said in March. “Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”