The top chaplain of the Archdiocese for the Military Services has declared that Catholic troops may refuse to be vaccinated on the grounds of conscientious objection, reversing his previous position.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio said this week in a statement that although he initially supported the Biden administration’s Aug. 24 vaccine mandate for all troops, he changed his position when “some service members” asked for religious exemptions.
“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. It does not,” the archbishop said in his statement, released Tuesday.
Although the Vatican and U.S. bishops have declared it morally permissible to get the shots, many Catholics have refused due to the pharmaceutical companies’ use of fetal stem cell tissues, which represents a potential violation of church teaching on abortion.
Archbishop Broglio’s statement reiterated the guidance of many bishops that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, tested using an abortion-derived cell line, remain morally preferable to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which he said “was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines.”
However, the archbishop said Catholic teaching allows soldiers to refuse vaccination on the grounds of conscientious objection for any reason they determine, without needing to explain themselves.
“Accordingly, no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” he said.
The archbishop also condemned efforts by the Biden Defense Department to pressure or force conscientious objectors into being vaccinated.
“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,” Archbishop Broglio wrote.
Established by the Vatican and U.S. Catholic bishops in 1985, the military archdiocese claims pastoral responsibility for 1.8 million service members and their families at 220 bases. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Broglio, 69, as its archbishop in 2007.
Both the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have urged Catholics to be vaccinated as “an act of love,” but have said there is no moral obligation to get the shots.
“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,” said the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a December 2020 instruction that Pope Francis approved.
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