With religious communities pushing for religious exemptions related to the vaccine, some Catholic leaders are denying these requests.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia filed a letter on Wednesday ordering local priests to deny any requests that parishioners may make concerning vaccine-related religious exemptions. Philadelphia is not the first denomination to file such a letter. Both New York and Los Angeles have implemented similar policies.
"Individuals may wish to pursue an exemption from vaccination based on their reasons of conscience," writes the Philadelphia vicar for clergy, the Rev. Michael F Hennelly. "In such cases, the burden to support such a request is not one for the local Church … to validate, and we are not able to provide support for exemption requests on that basis."
While the Archdiocese is one of the most influential voices for Catholics in Philadelphia, they are not the only ones speaking on the issue. The National Catholic Bioethics Center, based in Philadelphia, has consistently challenged mandatory vaccination policies, arguing that the vaccine-hesitant are not "Hesitant" but taking a principled stand due to related ethical issues. Specifically, the vaccine-hesitant are resisting due to the vaccines being developed through cell lines acquired via decades-old abortion processes. The NCBC also provided forms for Catholics to sign and present to their priests, requesting exemptions if they approved it.
The argument was quickly challenged by other Catholic leaders, with the New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan stating that "there is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine" and that doing so is counter to the directives of Pope Francis.
Several dioceses have advocated for similar positions, often requiring vaccinations for Catholic employees to work or attend services. Others have spread the NCBC's forms and argumentation, claiming that vaccine hesitancy is justified.
The Philadelphia Archdiocese told the Philadelphia inquirer that several parishioners had approached priests about the ban on exemptions. The leadership has declined requests to discuss the issue.