Chicago Cardinal Mandates Coronavirus Vaccination for Priests, Church Employees

Cardinal Blase Cupich speaks at an end of school year peace rally on June 15, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago natives Jennifer Hudson and Chance the Rapper, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords were guests at the rally. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images

ROME, Italy — Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich has ordered that all archdiocesan employees and clergy must receive a vaccination against the coronavirus within the next six weeks, with no exemptions for reasons of conscience, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported Wednesday.

Cardinal Cupich made this announcement after unsuccessfully pressuring the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) to change its position on vaccine mandates and conscience exemptions.

In early July, the NCBC declared it “does not endorse mandated COVID-19 immunization,” referencing a 2020 instruction from the Vatican’s doctrinal office (CDF) that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

“The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) does not endorse mandated COVID-19 immunization with any of the three vaccines that have received Emergency Use Authorization as of July 1, 2021,” the statement read.

“The most authoritative guidance from the Catholic Church issued on this topic comes from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and emphasizes that individuals must discern whether to be vaccinated or not in conscience and without coercion,” it added.

In an August 19 email to Chicago clergy and staff, Cardinal Cupich he said he was imposing the obligation to be vaccinated because he is “convinced that this is the best way to stop the spread of this deadly illness.”

Cupich also stated that a religious exemption “cannot be supported by Catholic teaching,” and told priests of the archdiocese not to give a religious exemption to a parishioner who requests one.

The Chicago Archdiocese has said unvaccinated employees must receive weekly tests for the virus and continue to wear masks and may be prohibited from accessing certain areas.

The cardinal’s convictions are not universally shared by his brother bishops.

The Colorado bishops, for instance, expressed their satisfaction that a Denver vaccine mandate expressly included “accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs,” insisting this is “appropriate under the laws protecting freedom of religion.”

“We always remain vigilant when any bureaucracy seeks to impose uniform and sweeping requirements on a group of people in areas of personal conscience,” the Colorado bishops stated. “Throughout history, human rights violations and a loss of respect for each person’s God-given dignity often begin with government mandates that fail to respect the freedom of conscience.”

“In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are convicted that the government should not impose medical interventions on an individual or group of persons,” they added. “We urge respect for each person’s convictions and personal choices.”

On August 17, the NCBC published a follow-up to its earlier statement urging “accommodations” for people who do not wish to receive a coronavirus vaccine for reasons of conscience.

In its statement, the NCBC acknowledged “the complex and challenging decisions in conscience that institutions — including Catholic health care organizations — need to make not only for the sake of the persons they serve but also for the good of their employees.”

“Respecting the conscientious judgments and religious beliefs of these employees is an indispensable dimension of this,” it added, noting that mandatory vaccination policies need “appropriate accommodations for medical or religious reasons.”

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