The Catholic bishops in Colorado have emphasized the need to respect those with conscientious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines and have provided a template letter for any Catholics with objections to mandatory vaccination. They also welcomed the city of Denver’s vaccination mandate for including a religious exemption.
The Catholic conference noted its previous affirmation that the use of some COVID-19 vaccines is “morally acceptable under certain circumstances.” It also stressed its cooperation with secular authorities and encouragement for Catholics to help each other and to help society “remain healthy and safe during this challenging time.”
“We understand that some individuals have well-founded convictions that lead them to discern they should not get vaccinated,” said the Catholic conference. “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.”
“We always remain vigilant when any bureaucracy seeks to impose uniform and sweeping requirements on a group of people in areas of personal conscience,” said the bishops, adding, “human-rights violations and a loss of respect for each person’s God-given dignity often begin with government mandates that fail to respect the freedom of conscience.”
More than 70% of eligible Coloradans have been vaccinated. In January Archbishop Aquila shared on the internet a photo of his first shot of the Moderna vaccine to his Facebook page to help encourage Catholics “to prayerfully consider receiving one once they are eligible.”
However, in the first three weeks of July, unvaccinated Coloradans accounted for 80% of coronavirus cases, 87% of hospitalizations and 92% of deaths, Colorado Public Radio reported.
Public-health authorities are concerned that new variants of the virus are more contagious and cause infections of greater severity. In Colorado, officials worry that unless at least 80% of eligible people are vaccinated, the state could see hundreds of preventable hospitalizations and scores more deaths in the coming months.
The Colorado Catholic Conference on its website provided a template letter for pastors for Catholics who are seeking a religious exemption. The template restates much of the Aug. 6 statement and also notes First Amendment concerns about religious accommodation for objections. It notes the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on conscience, saying, “if a Catholic comes to an informed judgment that he or she should not receive a vaccine, then the Catholic Church requires that the person follow this judgment of conscience and refuse the vaccine.”
This stands in stark contrast to what is happening in New York:
The Colorado bishops’ approach differs from that of the Archdiocese of New York, which in a July 30 memo instructed priests not to grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that doing so would contradict the Pope. Its memo suggested that asking a Catholic priest to approve the exemption might be “seeking the inaccurate portrayal of Church instructions.” The memo cited the hypothetical example of a student who receives an exemption, contracts the virus and spreads it through campus.
Meanwhile, The New York Times offers this context:
While employers have a legal responsibility to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, and universities can allow religious, and even philosophical, exemptions for the vaccines, restaurants and other businesses don’t have that same duty toward customers, according to Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
What exactly constitutes a religious belief is open to interpretation, she said, from the teachings of the major organized religions to less traditional religious beliefs.
One religious argument people have made against vaccines, according to Ms. Sepper, is that they undercut their faith in God’s ability to protect their bodies from harm. Others are opposed to vaccines that were developed or tested using cells derived from the fetal tissue of elective abortions that took place decades ago.
But employers are also protected from being burdened — they only have to provide a realistic alternative to the employee, usually in the form of frequent testing, mask mandates or social distancing.
“The obligation to the employer is to be reasonable,” Ms. Sepper said. “Not to roll over backward, and let an employee do whatever they want.”
And the number of people who could successfully petition for a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate is probably small.
“If we saw religious exemptions in any large number, I would doubt their sincerity,” Ms. Sepper said. “Because there’s no major religion that opposes vaccination.”