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Bioethicist: There must be conscience exemptions to vaccine mandates

Matt Hadro   By Matt Hadro for CNA

(Image: Ball Lunla/Shutterstock)

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

As workplaces have begun to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, some Catholic institutions insist that conscience exemptions are necessary.

In addition, priests should be allowed to support Catholics who conscientiously refuse COVID-19 vaccines, says one bioethicist.

“It is Catholic doctrine that people’s well-founded conscientious objections are part of their religion,” said Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an interview with CNA on Monday. Meaney spoke in support of religious and conscience exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates

“Part of our Catholic doctrine is that you should have to follow your conscience,” he said. “And if your conscience is telling you not to do this, then you’re not doing it not just from your conscience perspective, but also from your religious Catholic belief.”

Some employers have already begun mandating that employees receive COVID-19 vaccines.  New York City this week announced it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for workers and patrons of some businesses, such as gyms, restaurants, and theaters.

The New York archdiocese, meanwhile, has warned priests against granting religious vaccine exemptions for Catholics.

“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. The memo was issued several days before the city announced its vaccine mandate.

While recognizing the “discretion” of individuals to either receive or decline a COVID-19 vaccine, the archdiocese’s memo said that priests “should not be active participants to such actions” by granting religious exemptions.

However, priests could “definitely” have a basis to support Catholics’ religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, Meaney told CNA. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has provided a form letter on its website for Catholics seeking to opt out of vaccine mandates for reasons of conscience.

“People objecting to this [ethically-tainted vaccines] are doing so from a very sound Catholic basis, and so I think they should get the support of the Church for doing so,” Meaney said.

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to controversial cell lines derived from elective abortions decades prior. All three vaccines – produced by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – were tested with the cell lines. Only one – produced by Johnson & Johnson – was produced directly using the cell lines.

In the 2008 document Dignitas Personae, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke against the use of cell lines derived from elective abortions in vaccines; the document recognized that parents, for serious reasons, could use these vaccines for their children.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that Catholics may validly receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines with connections to abortion-derived cell lines. The USCCB noted that Catholics should seek, if possible, to receive a vaccine with a lesser connection to the cell lines.

However, these statements have not been a flat endorsement of the vaccines, Meaney said.

“To a certain extent, people have taken the statements that have come out – which are all true, that people can discern in conscience to accept the vaccines – to be kind of an endorsement,” he said. “It’s more like a permission,” he said, “it’s a reluctant permission.”

The July 30 memo of the New York archdiocese cited Pope Francis’ call for everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine, warning that priests granting exemptions to vaccine mandates would be “acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope.”

In a January television interview, the pope said, “I believe that ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.”

“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.

However, the Vatican has been clear that Catholics can conscientiously object to receiving the vaccines, Meaney said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a December 2020 note, stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation,” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Such theological notes are reviewed by the pope, Meaney added.

“The Church is saying, for certain individuals, they can in good conscience take it [the vaccine],” he said. For others who discern that they do not want to receive COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to abortion-derived cell lines, the Church says they can decline to do so, he added.

“In both circumstances,” he said, the Church defends “their right to do so.”

A conscience exemption should not function like a “’get out of jail free’ card,” Meaney cautioned, noting the responsibility of Catholics to form their consciences and make well-founded judgments. Those not receiving vaccines should do “everything in their power to make sure that they’re keeping others safe,” he added.

And part of the Church’s teaching on conscience, he said, is that an individual cannot be coerced into making decisions. When vaccine mandates are issued at workplaces without clear exemptions, this presents a real problem for Catholics trying to make a prudent decision, he said.

“The best ethical decision-making is made with all the facts that are available to a person, but also without undue pressure being put upon them,” he said.

“The thing that’s always very, very problematic is when people’s consciences are being coerced,” he said, noting the “terrible” situation of an individual forced to either receive a vaccine or lose his or her job.


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15 Comments

  1. When was the last time the Vatican or the New York Archdiocese, when challenged to take a public position to defend those Catholics seeking to give a public witness in support of Catholic moral values, gave them they support they deserved according to imperatives given to them, not by princely powers, but by God Himself?

  2. We will all be judged by God one day and will go to our just rewards or just punishments. Just a reminder…Liars go to HELL !!! and HELL is ETERNAL PUNISHMENT!

  3. The persons pushing the shot mandate are either pathetically misinformed or lying. The shot, which is absolutely Not a vaccine, is a death sentence. The shots from all of the companies have caused blood clotting, some of it microscopic. The damage in the brain, lungs, and heart is irreparable. The blood clots continue and the heart wears out after approximately 3 years or earlier. Do NOT take the shot!!! It’s a death sentence! Medical scientists and doctors have studied them and put out warnings that the government keeps trying to hide. Research it for yourselves. Ask to see the ingredients in the shots, which even the pharmacists are not allowed to see. The ingredients papers which come with the shots are marked, “INTENTIONALLY BLANK”! They are poison! Do NOT take the shots. You have rights! They are experimental and involve aborted babies in their creation or testing.

  4. “The USCCB noted that Catholics should seek, if possible, to receive a vaccine with a lesser connection to the cell lines.” Doesn’t that define “relativism,” which they keep warning us against? Thankfully, I don’t need any priest to give me an exemption from the currently available, morally-compromised vaccines; my conscience does that for me. I do appreciate the work of the NCBC that assists us in gaining the knowledge about the vaccines’ connections to fetal-cell research. I could never support such research, because my well-formed Catholic conscience tells me that such support is a violation of Church teaching.

  5. An extremely essential clarification of the issue in the current context. It should find wide dissemination. Well done, CWR.

  6. Those who dismiss moral objections to the so-called vaccines should ask themselves a simple question: IF the cell lines were produced from organs forcibly removed from murdered slave laborers and/or concentration camp victims, do you have any doubt that all would be appalled and the products would never see the light of day? The innocent unborn, per the teaching of Christ, are every bit as human and as much entitled to legal protection as anyone else. Sorry to say, many of our leaders are implicitly denying the humanity of the unborn by failing to call for conscience protection for all who have well founded moral objections to using these products.

    • Well done. I am surprised we have not seen this brought up frequently.
      Several days ago I had the opportunity to employ this reasoning in a discussion. They went mute.

  7. There is a colossal category error going on in the country. By the published admission of the manufacturers themselves (!), the mRNA “vaccines” – which are not pieces of weakened covid virus, as would fit the actual definition of vaccine, but an administration of synthetic protein-creation code that puts to work every cell that receives the code to make the spiky thing that protrudes from the virus “ball”, that in turn, because of its abundant new artificial presence in the body, provokes an “immune response” in order to lessen SYMPTOMS ONLY, these “vaccines”, according to Pfizer and Moderna:

    do not prevent infection (true vaccine prevents infection)
    do not cause immunity (true vaccines result in actual immunity)
    do not cure covid (they only tell your body to make the outer covid spike protein, with 50 billion units of code per shot)
    do not prevent transmission
    do not prevent hospital admission

    They can even cause death. The CDC VAERS page currently reports 6,340 deaths from the vaccine to date.

    These shot have entered the subconscious automatic domain of many, to confer what they are falsely understood to confer. They are not what they are being called! Everyone is operating under a blind accepted definition, swallowed wholesale out of mortal fear of virus death (99.9% survival rate for everyone under 70!) and religious allegiance to Media & State. When there is not God in a consciously accepting human core, there is always idolatric attachment to something else. Enter the experimental sacrament of obedience.

    The Church does not mandate reception of it’s holy sacrament to all Americans, but all Christ believers must accept the sacrament of Big secular Pharma? Is not the body “very little” as per St John Vianney? Is not the spirit above the flesh? Why are we fearing and serving flesh?!

  8. nobody should be forced to get this so-called “jab”. nobody really knows what is being put into the body. just like when Hitler’s men found twins. they would inject them with an unknown substance. i am not following with this and i applaud anyone who doesnt either. its all just government scare tactics. dont fall for it. use common sense.

  9. The vaccine debates are scary and people are ignorant of what gets into their bodies, and the future of humanity is becoming more complex and artificial. Welcoming more information. Thanks global Catholics

  10. Yes conscience but yes also the common good. The common good is served by everyone eligible being vaccinated. If one chooses not to be vaccinated, one has to assume the societal restrictions that may follow from that choice. Children are required to be vaccinated to attend public schools in most (if not all) states. And, I hope, many private schools also have the same requirement. This serves the common good. Same with COVID19. If one refuses the COVID19 vaccine for reasons that were not prescribed by your physician, peace be with you. But please don’t put the rest of us at risk

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