Priests navigate Catholics’ fears and consciences in vaccine exemption pleas
(RNS) – For Reverend James Baron, pastor of the Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it is the responsibility of the church to stand up for the conscience of others.
This is why Baron’s Parish, on its website and Facebook page, shared a link to a template made available to priests to sign “if a Catholic wants a paper trail that he is requesting an exemption (COVID vaccine -19) for religious reasons “.
The form, provided in English and Spanish by the Colorado Catholic Conference, the body representing the state’s Catholic bishops, states that “vaccination is not morally obligatory in principle and therefore must be voluntary” and that “a no one is morally bound to obey his conscience. “
“If it’s a matter of conscience, I think society, employers, government have a strong obligation to respect this,” Baron said. “It’s a person’s most intimate sanctuary, and we don’t want to violate someone else’s conscience, let alone force them to try to do it.”
The Colorado Catholic Conference statement was presented as evidence of a disagreement among U.S. Catholic bishops over whether Catholic education supports the decline of the COVID-19 vaccine as employers and schools across the country begin to demand it.
The Colorado Catholic Conference statement has been presented as evidence of a disagreement among U.S. Catholic bishops over whether Catholic education supports the decline of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The bishops of South Dakota have concluded so, stating in a declaration that Catholics can “discern whether it is right or wrong to receive one of the available vaccines against Covid-19”.
If Catholics come to “the certainty in conscience that they should not receive it, we think it is a sincere religious belief, for they are obligated before God to follow their conscience,” said the Catholics. prelates of South Dakota. “We support any Catholic who has come to this conviction …”
The Colorado Catholic Conference and Colorado Dioceses are not tracking the number of exemption requests or the number of letters signed by pastors across the state, according to a statement sent to Religion News Service by Matthew Server, associate director of the Colorado Catholic Conference. .
“In the few calls and emails we have received from Catholics in Colorado, we have pointed out that no member of the clergy is obligated to sign (or refuse to sign) the letter, and that people seeking details of the exemption process should consult their employer. or at school, ”Server said in the statement.
However, more and more bishops across the country are urging their priests to refuse such requests.
No member of the clergy is obligated to sign (or refuse to sign) the letter of exemption, but more and more bishops are urging their priests to refuse such requests.
At the end of July, the Archdiocese of New York sent a letter to his priests by telling them that “there is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption from the vaccine”, and that this amounts to “acting in contradiction with the Pope’s directives” and “participating in a act that could have serious consequences for others.
The note added that “any individual is free to exercise their discretion to be vaccinated according to their own beliefs without seeking the inaccurate representation of church instructions.”
The Bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy, in a Letter of August 11, advised priests not to venture “down this path which fuses personal choice and doctrinal authenticity”. McElroy’s directive came after several pastors wrote to him saying they had received requests from parishioners to sign the form provided by the bishops of Colorado.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently issued a statement, claiming that it “does not provide individuals with religious exemption letters to avoid vaccination against COVID-19.”
Dioceses of Philadelphia Cream,Chicago and Honolulu prohibited waivers and ordered priests to refuse such requests. Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., Went further, saying in a statement that diocesan staff should be vaccinated “as a condition of their employment” starting September 1.
Bishop Robert McElroy advised priests not to venture “down that path which fuses personal choice with doctrinal authenticity.”
An LA County pastor, who disagreed with Los Angeles Archdiocese policy, said it was unfortunate he couldn’t approve such requests because parishioners, including a teacher and an entertainment industry worker, had come to see him to request a religious exemption on their concerns related to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our hands are tied,” he said.
Reverend Bernardo Lara, a Catholic priest from San Diego who advocates for the vaccine, said he had not received any exemption requests from parishioners because “I think they know my point of view” .
Lara, however, said that when asked, he tried to get to the root of parishioners’ reluctance about the vaccine, whether it was due to mistrust of the government or for spiritual reasons or policies.
“If it’s a spiritual fear, well, try to make them see that we all take care of ourselves throughout our lives and that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist or (that)” I don’t. not trust God “” said Lara. “An example I give them is when you go to cross the street, you look both ways before you cross the street. You still believe in God, but even then you care about yourself.
“With the vaccine, it’s an act of faith in God. It is an act of self-love, but at the same time an act of love towards one’s neighbor. “
Lara doesn’t see this as a “you versus us” problem.
“I think it’s more of a ‘Let’s walk together and help each other see why we should be vaccinated’, because in the very end, that’s the fundamental commandment of our Catholic faith. Love God and your neighbor as yourself, ”said Lara.
“With the vaccine, it’s an act of faith in God. It is an act of self-love, but at the same time an act of love towards one’s neighbor, ”he added.
In Colorado, Baron points out that bishops encourage people to get vaccinated. But, he added, the church also has a role to play in trying to help people protect their conscience. It would be “dishonest” to say otherwise, Baron said.
Baron said most applicants for his approval did so in person and with the hard copy of the form in hand. He said he did not know if their employers had validated these forms. Baron said there had not been an overwhelming number of worshipers asking him to sign these requests, adding that he would not question why they were asking for an exemption.
“I trust people to be able to have integrity if they ask for this. It’s not really for me to be an inquisitor. They read the language of the letter. They know what they are asking me to sign, and if I know them, then I have confidence in the maturity of their request, ”said Baron.