“No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” said Archbishop Timothy Broglio in a statement.
Since Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a vaccine mandate in August, some service members have requested a religious exemption through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the archbishop noted.
While the Vatican's doctrinal office has ruled that it is morally permissible for Catholics to receive the vaccines, this does not inhibit individual Catholics from determining otherwise in their cases, he asserted.
“This circumstance raises the question of whether the vaccine's moral permissibility precludes an individual from forming a sincerely held religious belief that receiving the vaccine would violate his conscience,” he wrote. “It does not.”
Citing Saint Paul VI, the archbishop said that individuals possess the “civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.”
“Even if an individual's decision seems erroneous or inconsistent to others, conscience does not lose its dignity,” Broglio said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has itself ruled that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”
“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,” he added.
Broglio also said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was “more problematic” than others due to its ties to human cells derived from abortions.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic,” he said in the statement. “If it were the only vaccine available, it would be morally permissible, but the faithful Catholic is to make known his or her preference for a more morally acceptable treatment.”