NY archdiocese says priests can’t grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine

A COVID-19 vaccination injection is administered.
A COVID-19 vaccination injection is administered. | Unsplash/Mufid Majnun

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has issued a memorandum saying that priests cannot grant religious exemptions to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a memorandum dated July 30 and recently circulated on social media, Archdiocese Chancellor John P. Cahill informed all clergy and staff that there was “no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine.”

“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,” read the memo, in part.  

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“By doing so [a priest] is acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope and is participating in an act that could have serious consequences to others.” 

Cahill wrote with concern about the possibility of a hypothetical student receiving a religious exemption, only to contract the coronavirus and then spread it to others at a school.

“Clearly this would be an embarrassment to the archdiocese,” continued the memo. “Some even argue that it might impose personal liability on the priest.”

The memo concluded that while a person “is free to exercise discretion on getting the vaccine based on his or her own beliefs,” the archdiocese’s clergy “should not be active participants to such actions.”

There has been some controversy over the COVID-19 vaccines in some Catholic and pro-life circles due to the research being tied to the practice of abortion.

For example, the AstraZeneca vaccine was partly developed via growing a modified virus in cells taken from embryonic kidney tissue derived from an abortion performed decades ago.

However, researchers tied to the AstraZeneca vaccine have stressed that the aborted tissue was only used for testing it and was not part of the vaccine itself.

Also, the Moderna vaccine was developed from the HEK-293T cell line, which was indirectly derived from aborted fetal cells taken from a baby aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

Last December, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church issued a statement expressing support for the COVID-19 vaccine despite its research history.

“It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” stated the CDF, as reported by Vatican News.

The CDF clarified that “the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines.”

“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,” the statement continued.

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