The Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced earlier this week that it would accept personal belief-exemptions for Catholic-school students who opt out of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
The diocese, however, continues to urge Catholics to get vaccinated.
“In implementing any legal mandate for COVID vaccinations that includes a personal-belief exemption, the Catholic schools of the Diocese of San Diego will accept any parents’ request for exemption as valid,” the diocese said in a letter to school pastors and principals.
The diocese said its decision was based on a law that requires any mandate that has been implemented without legislative approval — such as California's COVID-19 vaccine mandates for its schools — has to permit medical and personal belief exemptions.
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“The consensus among legislative analysts with whom we have spoken is that it is unlikely that the legislature will give legislative approval for a mandate without a personal-belief exemption,” the letter continued. “Thus, any parent would be able to seek a personal-belief exemption for the COVID mandate.”
The personal belief exemption does not apply to 10 vaccines required under California law.
The diocese made it clear that this is not a religious exemption provided by the diocese but, rather, is an acknowledgment of "the rights of parents to decide issues vital to their children."
"It has nothing to do with being Catholic," diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said. "It has nothing to do with any kind of religious exemption. The state calls it a personal-belief exemption, and we’re going to respect anyone who asks for a personal-belief exemption
In August, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy urged San Diego priests to “caringly decline” any religious-exemption requests from parishioners, adding that the church stands behind all vaccines as an act of love toward one’s neighbor.
At issue for many Catholics and other abortion opponents is that the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines were tested on fetal cell lines developed over decades in laboratories, though the vaccines themselves do not contain any such material.
However, as Eckery pointed out, the leader of the Catholic Church does not object to the coronavirus vaccine.
"“For goodness sake, the pope has gotten vaccinated, the pope is encouraging people to be vaccinated, the bishop in San Diego is encouraging people to be vaccinated, and time and time again, we said there is no ethical reason why you can’t have this vaccine," Eckery said.
Alex Stack, spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom's office, reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccine is a requirement for students in California schools.
“Vaccines are how we end this pandemic, and we’re treating the COVID-19 vaccine just like other vaccines that students are required to get to go to school," Stack said in a written statement. "As we head into the winter months, it’s more important than ever for our children to get protected against this deadly virus.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report — Ed.