The Department of Communications shares the following guidance about religious exemptions from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and the moral permissibility of COVID-19 vaccines:
In response to questions from pastors about whether they can provide letters to parishioners seeking a religious exemption for the COVID vaccine, the following pastoral guidance was shared with all priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit:
When considering these requests and discussing them with the faithful, pastors should:
- Affirm the moral permissibility of COVID-19 vaccines, as detailed in the following authoritative documents/statements:
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “When ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available…it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.”
- The bishops of Michigan: “It is morally permissible to be vaccinated if there are no alternatives and there are serious health risks. Such serious health risks are present due to the current pandemic.”
- Pope Francis: “Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love – love for oneself, love for one's family and friends, love for all people.”
- Affirm the CDF’s judgment (linked above) that “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” Individuals who refuse vaccines “must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.”
In this way, we affirm the individual right of conscience while also affirming our shared responsibility to protect our own health and the health of others in the community in which we live.
In addition to the above pastoral response, a pastor may sign a letter verifying an individual’s parish membership. This has always been the case. If asked, a pastor also may author a letter (addressed to his parishioner) sharing all of the above affirmations.
Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron joined his brother bishops of the Michigan dioceses to release the following statement on March 3, 2021. (This statement was initially released on Dec. 18, 2020 and referenced the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines. It was revised and re-released on March 3, 2021 to include reference to the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)
“It is morally permissible to receive the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. Neither of these vaccines has used cell lines originating in tissue taken from aborted babies in their design, development, and production. However, both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine did use such a cell line in the confirmatory testing. This connection to abortion is very remote, however, and it is important to keep in mind that there are varying levels of responsibility. Greater moral responsibility lies with the researchers than with those who receive the vaccine. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has indicated that it is morally permissible to be vaccinated if there are no alternatives and there are serious health risks. Such serious health risks are present due to the current pandemic.
"The vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are more morally problematic, however. They utilized in the design, production, development, and confirmatory testing a cell line that originated from tissue taken from an aborted baby. These vaccines may be received only if there are no other alternatives. If one does not have a choice of vaccine and a delay in immunization may bring about serious consequences for one’s health and the health of others, it would be permissible to accept the Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccine. Both are somewhat similar in production to the Rubella vaccine, which the Pontifical Academy of Life indicated could be received for grave reasons and if there are no other alternatives."
(Click here for full statement.)
The USCCB has also released statements from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Archbishop Vigneron currently serves as vice president of the USCCB.
Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca were addressed in a Dec. 14, 2020 statement:
“In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines.
“Receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.”
(Click here for full statement.)
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine was addressed in a March 2, 2021 statement:
“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.
“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.’ However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.
“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”
For further details, the USCCB refers people to their Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines, to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Note, and to the statement of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life.