Bishop Anthony B. Taylor said priests in Arkansas could not facilitate a “religious exemption” for employers’ COVID-19 vaccination mandate. In a letter to priests dated Aug. 23, Bishop Taylor instructed priests to decline to sign any religious exemption documents. Exemptions sometimes are requested by employees whose employers are requiring the vaccination to continue employment.
“We have started receiving questions about whether priests can sign off on or support a ‘religious exemption’ request from parishioners who seek to be excused from an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. A ‘religious exemption’ differs from a ’conscientious exemption’ in that the former indicates that receiving the vaccine goes against the sincerely held beliefs of that person’s religion. So, in the case of your Catholic parishioners, signing off on such a ‘religious exemption’ would indicate your support for the proposition that the Catholic Church teaches that receiving the vaccine is fundamentally immoral and impermissible.
“However, that simply is not the case. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the USCCB have each conducted a moral analyses on these vaccines, with the consistent conclusion being that it is morally permissible to receive them. In fact, Pope Francis has consistently taught that getting vaccinated is an act of charity for the common good. Most recently, the Holy Father reiterated that getting vaccinated helps care especially for the most vulnerable and thus is an act of love.
“Therefore, if you receive requests to sign off on ‘religious exemptions” for your parishioners, you are to politely decline to do so. You should also take that opportunity to encourage your parishioners to get vaccinated as an act of charity for the common good and the most vulnerable. It may be that their conscience (well-formed or not) is telling them not to get vaccinated, and their consciences are obviously inviolable. But their religion is not telling them not to get vaccinated.
“Finally, a reminder that although I did away with the mask mandate in our churches at the diocesan level, I am practicing subsidiarity in this regard. So if you determine for your particular parish community that masks should be re-imposed at any point in the pandemic, you are free to do so. This may be especially true for parishes that have multiple Masses, where one Mass could be designated as a “mask-only Mass,” for example.
“I know these times are trying. Please know how grateful I am for all you do to minister to the people of God in Arkansas.”
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