After several pastors wrote to him of parishioners requesting religious exemption declarations, Bishop McElroy of San Diego replied they should “caringly decline” any such requests.

“I ask that you not venture down this pathway that merges personal choice with doctrinal authenticity.”

The declaration, a template of which is available of the Colorado Catholic Bishops Conference website here, McElroy says “seems to be to elicit from the pastor a public indication that a specific parishioner’s decision to refuse the COVID vaccine is rooted in and supported by authentic Catholic faith.”

The statement from the Colorado bishops affirms an earlier statement they made, that “the use of some COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable under certain circumstances” but that “some individuals have well-founded convictions that lead them to discern they should not get vaccinated.”

The Colorado bishops say requesting an exemption is “is appropriate under the laws protecting freedom of religion as vaccination is not morally obligatory in principle and so must be voluntary.” McElroy differs in thought however:

“The Holy See has made it clear that receiving the (COVID-19) vaccine is perfectly consistent with Catholic faith, and indeed laudatory in light of the common good in this time of pandemic.”

McElroy says similar situations are arising in parishes across the country, highlighting a divide among the clergy in thought on exemptions. Missouri Bishop Shawn McKnight, for example, urged all in his diocese to get vaccinated.

“I write again, this time with urgency, to encourage each person who can get vaccinated to do so. Doing your part and accepting your responsibility is the quickest way to stop the suffering and return to our usual activities. The church not only gives us permission to receive these vaccines, but she informs us that we have a moral responsibility to receive the vaccines when we are able to do so. Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and both President Donald Trump and President Joseph Biden, have been vaccinated and encouraged all of us who are eligible to do so as well.”

Both McKnight and McElroy point to a statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in which they declared: “Being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

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