Religious Exemption to Vaccine Mandate

The issue of religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine mandate continues to evolve and, in all honesty, remains quite confusing.

The U of R has announced that they WILL now consider religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate (details below), though we have been unable to confirm that NY State has reinstated the possibility of such exemptions, which were recently removed.

We understand that the official online form for U of R employees will be available starting on September 7, 2021 and can be found here (url: https://tools.mc.rochester.edu/covid-vaccination-status/login).

We would like to reiterate, in accord with the recent CDF statement, our support for neighbors, friends, and colleagues who in good (and with a well-formed) conscience choose to accept OR decline COVID vaccinations in accordance with Church teaching.

All that being said, here are some details we hope will be helpful for U of R employees who are interested in obtaining a religious objection to COVID vaccination…

The U of R form directs:

In your own words, please provide a written statement in the space below that outlines your genuine and sincere religious belief contrary to the practice of immunization. The statement should specifically describe the religious principles that guide your objection to vaccination and must include the underlined words above. Documentation prepared by a third party to whose views you ascribe will not be acceptable. Please indicate whether you are opposed to all vaccinations and if not, the religious basis that prohibits a particular vaccination, such as the COVID-19 vaccine.

As the document requires each person to put their reasoning in their own words, we will not here provide any verbatim suggestions, rather we will provide general recommendations that you can use to compose your uniquely-worded argument (though if you would like personalized assistance, please contact us!).

Points to consider for inclusion:

  • So long as it is true, be certain to include the exact phrase, “genuine and sincere religious belief” as it relates to your opposition to receiving any of the currently-available COVID vaccines.
  • If there is a COVID vaccine in development that you WOULD accept, such as one developed without the use of cell lines form aborted children, indicating this may lend credibility to your thoughtful refusal of those that are currently available. You can find the vaccines currently underdevelopment that meet this criterion from the Charlotte Lozier Institute or on Fr. Tad’s site.
  • We also recommend that you quote directly from the CDF document: Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, including in particular the opening line of paragraph 5, “At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” Note the use of “must be mandatory.” This is a strong statement and admits of no reasonable variation of interpretation. Please also note that this statement constitutes the official Teaching of the Magisterium and so provides solid ground for a Catholic to form his or her conscience.

We hope that this guidance is helpful. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or criticisms, please know that we encourage you to share them with us!

NYS Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Professionals

Updated 8/26/21 at 2030 – The reason for the lack of clarity had now been made clear. It seems that NYS never intended to allow for religious exemptions in the first place.

….

On August 16 Governor Cuomo issued a proclamation that all healthcare works in NYS will be mandated to be vaccinated no later than September 27th. With respect to exemptions to this mandate, the statement reads, “…a policy mandating employee vaccinations, with limited exceptions for those with religious or medical reasons.”

On August 23, the University of Rochester published their understanding of the mandate:

UR Medicine leadership participated in a call last week with New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) representatives to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo last Monday. At this time, the Medical Center’s understanding is that the mandate will apply to everyone who works within a licensed health care facility. This means that all faculty, staff, and students who work or study in a patient care facility (inpatient, outpatient, and procedure areas) will be required to receive a first dose of the vaccine by the state’s September 27 deadline; testing is no longer an available option per NYSDOH. It also appears that the state will approve limited criteria for medical or religious exemptions. (emphasis added)

Unlike student exemptions (U of R’s exemption process is here, see below for their exemption form) it appears that it will be the New York State government itself that will be directly handling requests for exemptions. However, the process for such requests is unclear.

One thing we would like to make/keep clear is the official stance of the Catholic Church on this contentious issue. From the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines (promulgated 12/21/2020)

3...It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive. It should be emphasized, however, 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....
5. At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.

To be clear, the Finger Lakes Guild fully submits to the prudential judgement of the Church that the currently-available vaccines, while not ideal from a moral standpoint, are acceptable under the circumstances of this pandemic.

At the same time, the Guild also stands by those individuals who, as a matter of conscience, are unable to accept vaccination with any of the currently-available options due to the connection to abortion.

Finally, in accordance with paragraph 5 from the CDF’s Note, we oppose the Governor’s sweeping mandate that effectively makes vaccination non-voluntary for healthcare workers by forcing a choice between either violating their conscience or losing their job.

Please share any thoughts, questions, etc. with us here. We will do our best to stay abreast of this rapidly evolving policy from the Governor.

COVID Vaccine Discussion at St. Bernard’s

The Guild would like to thank the Diocese of Rochester’s Life Issues office, St. Bernard’s, most of all, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk for a wonderful presentation and lively discussion last Wednesday!

Fr. Tad did a masterful job framing both the scientific and moral issues related to COVID vaccines. He was also extremely generous with this time, answering questions and engaging in discussion with the audience (both those in-person and joining remotely) late into the evening.

Thank you also to the many people who joined us for this talk. We were very happy to see many of you in person and were also gratified to see so much interest from those joining remotely!

If you haven’t already, please check out the National Catholic Bioethics Center’s website. In particular, keep in mind that if you ever find yourself in an ethically difficult bind, you can Ask a Question 24/7 and an ethicist will help you find the path that is true to Catholic moral teaching in an ever more challenging world!

Denial of Sacraments Due To COVID

I was very glad to read that Dr. Meaney has recovered from his health scare…and…I was not at all surprised to hear about the drastic visitor restrictions that caused him to be denied the sacraments. This is occurring all over the country, including here in Rochester.

The reasoning for these restrictions is clear and while I am very much in favor of doing what we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he sums up the fundamental problem succinctly:

I do not think some thoroughly secular people grasp the magnitude of the offense of denying a gravely ill or even dying person the last rites of the Church. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, including Holy Viaticum, can literally make the difference between an eternal destiny in heaven or one in hell.

Ultimately the secular world simply disagrees…and sadly so do many Catholics with perhaps as few as 30% of self-identified Catholics believing that the Most Blessed Sacrament is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The question is whether the Church in the US and around the world has the political will and moral fortitude to face this challenge.