Philadelphia archdiocese rejects religious exemptions to Covid vaccine mandates

Philadelphia archdiocese rejects religious exemptions to Covid vaccine mandates
The Vatican previously deemed refusing the vaccine on religious grounds to be ‘morally acceptable’

The archdiocese of Philadelphia has become the latest Catholic jurisdiction to refuse Covid-19 vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.

The Vatican had deemed refusing the vaccine on grounds of religious beliefs as “morally acceptable” in December. Along with Philadelphia, five other archdioceses in the US have gone against this assessment. These include New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Camden in New Jersey.

“Individuals may wish to pursue an exemption from vaccination based on their own reasons of conscience,” Kenneth Gavin, a Philadelphia archdiocese spokesperson, wrote in a statement obtained by The Washington Post. “In such cases, the burden to support such a request is not one for the local Church or its clergy to validate.”

Each archdiocese is responsible for policy in its constituency. Some areas have mandated their own employees to be vaccinated, in archdioceses such as Lexington and El Paso. The latter’s bishop, Mark J Seitz, said promoting vaccinations was a manifestation of Jesus Christ’s “focus on the well-being of the human beings he came to serve”, in a statement.

In a statement, Lexington’s Bishop John Stowe said, “the healthcare system is overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by people who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”

The Vatican has attempted to promote the vaccine among the church’s flock. Pope Francis called getting inoculated against Covid “an act of love” as a part of a promotional campaign. In a statement on 18 August, he said “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”

Bishops opposed to the pro-vaccine message argue that each person has the right to make their own decisions. In a template letter for people to use to seek vaccine exemption written by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, they wrote, “At the core of the Church’s teaching are the first and last points listed above: vaccination is not a universal obligation and a person must obey the judgment of his or her own informed and certain conscience.”

Other senior Catholic officials, such as Cardinal Raymond L Burke, implied that the Covid vaccine contains a microchip (it does not). This is a popular conspiracy theory among anti-vaccine groups who believe the government may be tracking recipients. According to a statement, he is being sedated due to complications of being infected with the coronavirus last week.

Rates of vaccination in Catholics are being reported to be high. According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 80 per cent of Hispanic Catholics report being vaccinated while 79 per cent of white Catholics have been. The amount of Catholics refusing the vaccine on religious grounds has not been measured.

According to data, over 51 per cent of Americans over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated against Covid, while more than 625,000 people have died due to complications of the virus.