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Archdiocese Of Philadelphia Orders Priests Not To Give Catholics Vaccine Exemptions

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Nicole Silverio Contributor
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The archdiocese of Philadelphia ordered the city’s Catholic priests to forbid granting coronavirus vaccine exemptions on religious grounds in a Wednesday letter to the clergy.

The archdiocese is the latest of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church’s leadership to refuse religious exemptions for members of the clergy and participants of church on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the Inquirer reported.

“Individuals may wish to pursue an exemption from vaccination based on their own reasons of conscience,” wrote Rev. Michael F. Hennelly, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy. “In such cases, the burden to support such a request is not for the local Church … to validate and we are not able to provide support for exemption requests on that basis.”

Pope Francis told Italy’s TG5 news program that everyone has a “moral obligation” to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in a Jan. 10 interview, according to the National Catholic Reporter. (RELATED: Vatican: Pope Francis And Pope Emeritus Benedict Have Received The Coronavirus Vaccine) 

“I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine,” the Pope said. “It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.”

During their testing trials, scientists reportedly used cell lines from aborted fetuses to test Moderna and Pfizer, the Charlotte Lozier Institute reported in June. These cells were used during the research, production and testing phases of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Vatican declared in December that COVID-19 vaccines tested with aborted babies’ cell lines are “morally acceptable” when “ethically irreproachable” immunizations are unavailable.

The Archdiocese of New York, similarly to Philadelphia, told its clergy that the church has “no basis” to issue religious exemptions to those refusing the vaccine in a June 30 memo, the Catholic News agency reported.

“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,” the memo said.

The Dioceses in Camden, San Diego, Honolulu, and Lexington, Kentucky have all expressed their support for refusing religious exemptions, according to the Inquirer. Also, the National Ad Council released a public service campaign video Wednesday calling for Catholics to get vaccinated.

The viewpoints of the archdiocese and the Vatican conflict with some U.S. Catholic leaders who have opposed mandating vaccines. For example, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), an organization that advises U.S. bishops and Catholic healthcare systems, announced their opposition to vaccine mandates in a July 2 statement.

“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 statement said.

The NCBC’s president, Joseph Meaney, argued that a “religious basis” is present in terms of exempting vaccinations for Catholics.

“I absolutely agree that there’s no strict religious obligation to object, but it’s not accurate to say there is no religious basis for exempting,” he said Wednesday, according to the Inquirer. “I agree in principle that a Catholic shouldn’t be required to provide a letter signed by a priest about what their Catholic belief is. Their Catholic belief doesn’t necessarily need to be validated by a church authority.”

Out of all the Christian denominations, Catholics are the least likely to refuse the vaccine, with 6% of Hispanic and 8% of white Catholics opposing the shot, according to a June study conducted by the PRRI. However, 24% of white evangelical Christians and 13% of black Protestants surveyed said they refuse to receive immunization based on their religious beliefs.