Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Over a month ago in a homily I addressed a number of pastoral concerns in response to the governor’s mandate for mandatory vaccinations for schools, healthcare workers, etc. I was especially concerned about our parish school—students, teachers, staff and parents. I was also seeking to respond to other employees as well as others from whom I had heard.
Since then, more discussion and guidance have taken place that I want to share with you. I contextualize these remarks in light of my canonical responsibility of being your local shepherd in communion with our chief shepherd of the archdiocese, Archbishop Etienne and the shepherd of the universal Catholic Church, Pope Francis. I am not a free agent (thanks be to God) but their agent, and not the agent of the governor except in matters of law.
This is a portion of what Archbishop Etienne wrote on September 14:
“Some people have recently associated my actions in relation to the COVID pandemic with those of the state. While the state’s guidance and declarations do have direct implications for us as Church and as an employer, I want to be clear—my actions are to protect life as a shepherd and pastor in the face of a worldwide pandemic that continues to take human life at an astonishing pace.
“We are not yet living in a post-pandemic world, and we must remain vigilant.
“We all have an obligation to love our neighbor, to protect our health and to protect the health of others. The immediate need to protect human life against the evil of the pandemic outweighs the remote connection to the evil involved in the testing and/or production of the vaccines.
“According to our Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because the connection between receiving the vaccines and abortion is so remote, and the danger of the pandemic is so grave, the moral prohibition of cooperation with evil does not apply. Therefore, a Catholic may be vaccinated in good conscience. Since the Catholic Church does not prohibit receiving a vaccine, a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate cannot be granted.
“While in principle there is no moral obligation to receive a vaccine, there can be reasons in particular circumstances for saying that there is a moral obligation to place more weight on the common good than on the individual. Today, the best life-saving defense against the pandemic is the vaccine. It is important that the formation of the individual conscience be informed by and directed toward the common good.
“Catholics have the moral obligation to form their conscience with the mind of the Church, which encourages us all to be vaccinated, with the exception of those who have valid medical reasons for exemption.
Please hear me loud and clear: I strongly urge all of us to be vaccinated.”
What is very important in the statement are these words, “Catholics have the moral obligation to form their conscience with the mind of the Church.” As you have heard me say, “I don’t get to make things up. I am an agent of the archbishop and the official teaching of the Catholic Church.”
Presently there are many alternate narratives about how to interpret Church teaching. Pope Francis, as principal teacher of the universal Catholic Church, has stated the moral acceptability of the present vaccines because of the remoteness of “formal material cooperation” with aborted fetuses. Pope Francis is vaccinated and urges us to do the same. As Bishop Tyson of Yakima clarifies in a letter to his faithful: “It is best to stay close to the Holy Father, Pope Francis. It is best to stay close to his message that this COVID-19 vaccine can be an act of ‘love’ for our neighbor. It is best that adults not make the ‘perfect’ the enemy of the ‘good.’ It is best if we focus, not on ourselves and our opinions and beliefs, but on the most vulnerable.”
The present spike of the delta variant of Covid–19 (which hopefully seems to be plateauing) is resulting in hospitalizations that are mostly among the unvaccinated. This is placing tremendous stress on our healthcare workers and our healthcare system. This also endangers our children and young people. As pastor, it is my obligation and responsibility to follow the guidance and directives of Archbishop Etienne as well as to assure, as best I can, the health and safety of everyone who comes to the parish, especially our young people in our school and involved in our faith formation programs.
I also realize that there are many reasons why people choose not to be vaccinated. Some of you have shared lengthy emails with me and have attached various articles reinforcing your concerns. It is my role as pastor to listen to each person with care and concern as well as to offer what clarification I can in regards to the teaching of the Church. I have no special words of wisdom. With each decision there are consequences, there are risks. Not everyone will agree with me when I encourage you to be vaccinated.
Let us pray for Pope Francis, Archbishop Etienne and one another during these difficult and challenging times. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit, the source of unity within the Church to be our sure guide and protector. Let us not allow Satan, the great divider and deceiver, to bring about further disunity, suspicion and prideful judgmentalism. In union with Pope Francis and Bishop Etienne, I urge you to be vaccinated.
In Christ Jesus, through the intercession of blessed Pier Giorgio, I am with you.