The archdioceses of both Philadelphia and Chicago have instructed their clerics not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines.
An Aug. 18 letter from Fr. Michael Hennelly, Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said that neither the archdiocese “nor its parishes are able to provide support, written or otherwise, for individuals seeking an exemption from the vaccine on religious grounds.”
And Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago wrote Aug. 17 to priests instructing them to “politely decline” requests for religious exemption, “and explain that doing so would mean that you would be endorsing something that is not in keeping with Catholic teaching,” according to a copy of the letter provided by WLS-TV.
“Parishioners surely can determine their own actions, but it would be important to clarify that they cannot use the teaching of the church to justify such decisions, which in their essence, are a rejection of the church’s authentic moral teaching regarding Covid vaccines,” the cardinal wrote.
“There is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds,” he said.
Cardinal Cupich wrote that “In fact, the Holy See has clearly stated that receiving the Covid vaccine is unquestionably in keeping with Catholic faith, and even has urged people to be vaccinated as an act of charity and out of respect for the common good in fighting the pandemic. Our moral teaching, while ever respectful of the rights of individuals, always keeps in focus the common good. Not doing so distorts Catholic doctrine.”
Fr. Hennelly’s letter to the priest of the Philadelphia archdiocese was in response to requests from parishioners asking their priests to provide a letter or sign a form supporting their exemption from obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds.
Fr. Hennelly also said that individuals “may wish to pursue exemption” on reasons of conscience. However, he maintained that “the burden to support such a request is not one for the local Church or its presbyterate to validate and we are not able to provide support for exemption requests on that basis.”
The Philadelphia archdiocese “strongly recommends that all members of the Catholic community” get vaccinated unless they are medically exempt, the priest wrote.
“That recommendation is based on the facts that the COVID-19 vaccines and their development have been determined morally acceptable and that we all share a common ethical responsibility to the well-being of our fellow human beings.”
The Philadelphia vicar for clergy cited a passage from a US bishops’ conference document on coronavirus vaccines, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement that “the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good.”
In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.”
It said that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”
“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 wrote.
The matter of conscientious objection to COVID-19 vaccine requirements is emerging as a source of conflict among Catholic leaders and institutions, particularly so in the United States, where pressure is mounting against those who have not been vaccinated.
Several bishops in California, and the Archdiocese of New York, have instructed priests not to provide religious exemption letters for those Catholics who object to the vaccine mandate, while the bishops in Colorado and South Dakota, and the Bishop of Gallup, have upheld conscience rights.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance to uphold human dignity in health care and medical research, is opposed to mandated immunization for COVID-19, while also acknowledging that reception of the coronavirus vaccines is morally permissible.
“In fulfilling its mission, the NCBC draws on the full range of the teachings of the Church, including its social teachings, which provide guidance on appropriate respect for persons while building up the common good,” the center said in an Aug. 17 statement.
The NCBC stated that “The Church encourages people to receive vaccination for COVID-19, even though the currently available vaccines in the U.S. have a remote connection to abortion through the use of certain cell lines.”