“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.”
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.
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.”