Catholic soldiers can refuse COVID-19 vaccine on conscience grounds: archbishop

Members of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard stand at attention at the 9/11 Memorial in New York November 10, 2014. | Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Catholic members of the U.S. Armed Forces should be allowed to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine if it goes against “the sanctity of his or her conscience,” according to Timothy P. Broglio, a Roman Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services, USA.

Broglio released a statement on Tuesday regarding concerns raised about COVID-19 vaccine mandates and soldiers' religious objections on the basis of conscience.

The Pentagon recently issued a mandate stating that all U.S. service personnel must be fully vaccinated, setting different deadlines for each branch of the military. Exemptions for religious reasons were included. 

Despite the Pentagon mandate, The Washington Post reported that hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members have not been fully vaccinated yet. 

Broglio noted that some Catholic soldiers have expressed concerns over how the research used to develop the vaccines that combat COVID-19 are tied to the tissue cells of an aborted baby. 

“The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were tested using an abortion-derived cell line. That type of a link has been for centuries considered remote material cooperation with evil and is never sinful,” Broglio wrote.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic. If it were the only vaccine available, it would be morally permissible,” he added.

While noting that high-ranking Catholic Church authorities have declared the vaccine morally acceptable, the archbishop added that “the Church treasures her teaching on the sanctity of conscience.”

“Accordingly, no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” he wrote.

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible.”

Broglio noted that those who refuse to get the vaccine should still “act in charity for their neighbors” by following public health guidelines like engaging in social distancing, wearing face coverings, getting tested on a regular basis, and “remaining open to receiving a treatment should one become available that is not derived from, or tested with abortion-derived cell lines.”

Last December, the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement saying it was “morally acceptable” for Catholics to take the COVID-19 vaccine, despite its ties to the cells of an aborted baby.

“In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed,” stated the CDF.

In January, both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received their first shots of the vaccine. In October, the Vatican enacted a mandate for visitors and employees of Vatican City to either be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19.

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