Bishop of San Diego Asks Priests Not to Take Part in Religious Vaccine Exemptions

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As more governments, businesses and institutions implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates allowing for religious exemptions, Catholic leaders across the nation remain divided over whether or not they should sign off.

To clear up any confusion in San Diego, Bishop Robert McElroy asked local priests to “caringly decline” any requests for endorsement from parishioners seeking a religious exemption from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“Such a declaration is particularly problematic because 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 wrote in a letter to priests in the diocese.

Religious exemptions are included in several recent mandates, including two set by Governor Gavin Newsom in schools and in health care settings.

“Some of our guys are getting approached from folks who are adamant that they want to get this exception,” Said Kevin Eckery, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

Eckery attributed the recent surge in exemptionrequests to a letter published last week by the Catholic Bishops of Colorado that stated “vaccination is not morally obligatory and so must be voluntary.”

Included in their letter was an exemption form parishioners could take to a priest and have signed.

“In California there’s no interest in doing it whatsoever, not to mention, there’s no religious basis not to do it. So, we just don’t want to encourage it, we don’t want to lead people on that they should be able to,” Eckery said.

One San Diego priest said he gets asked by parishioners all the time.

“I had a number of people approaching me asking, ‘Should I get it? Are you going to get it? Or are you not?” Father Bernardo Lara said.

McElroy’s letter says, in part, “The declaration focuses its moral analysis so exclusively on the rights of the individual to his or her choice and personal benefit in society rather than balancing those realities with the pursuit of the common good.”

A point Father Lara echoed.

“The core foundation of the Catholic church is always going to be the common good. That’s one of the reasons we have to vaccinate,” he said.

McElroy said the church stands behind all vaccines as an act of love towards one's neighbor.

Following the statement released by the Catholic Bishops of Colorado, several dioceses across the nation including the archdiocese of New York have released similar statements to that of the Diocese of San Diego advising all priests not to take part in any religious exemptions.

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