Parents of children enrolled in San Diego Catholic schools are asking to meet with Bishop Robert McElroy about the possibility of government-mandated Covid-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren. On October 1, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that when a Covid-19 vaccination is granted full FDA approval for school-age children, he will add it to the list of vaccinations required for children to attend school in California.

Throughout last week, over 450 people have signed an online petition asking for a meeting with Bishop McElroy. The petition points out that public school parents are able to speak to their school boards and asks that Catholic school parents be given the same chance to speak with those running diocesan schools. The petition suggests a meeting date of October 13.

Douglas Farry, the father of two students at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, posted the petition. He said that parents are especially eager to be involved in diocesan decision-making concerning the vaccine since they had no input in the diocese’s decision to mandate masking at diocesan schools this fall. “With a week to go before school started, parents got notice that the kids were going to be wearing masks indoors to comply with the California Department of Public Health mandate that was issued both to public and to private schools,” Farry said. Cathedral, at least, Farry said, did not give a virtual or at-home option for the fall.

Farry said that he and other parents had questions about how the diocese came to the decision to comply with the mask mandate when the Ninth Circuit had recently ruled in Brach v. Newsom that private schools did not have to comply with state-mandated school closures. Now the parents’ questions have expanded to include a possible vaccine mandate. “There hadn’t been any communication prior to the decision to comply with the mask mandate,” Farry said. “Was there going to be any opportunity for parental input or discussion on the vaccine mandate?” Farry and other parents said that they have made multiple requests to meet with Bishop McElroy, to no avail.

Alexandra Gabbard, the mother of two Catholic school students in the San Diego diocese, says that she has repeatedly contacted the diocese about the mask mandate and possible vaccine mandate and was told that the diocese will follow all California Department of Public Health guidelines and “wouldn’t even take our concerned parents’ opinion into consideration.” Gabbard believes that the evidence shows that school-age children are not at risk of serious illness from Covid-19 and that the bishops should “focus on being shepherds of the soul rather than shepherds of the body.” Gabbard took part in organizing a rally against mandatory masking on August 2 outside the diocesan offices, which, she said, “fell on deaf ears.”

Toward the end of the August 2 rally Bishop McElroy came out of the office and had a “brief encounter” with the remaining attendees, Gabbard said. “He mostly spoke with the kids about pleasantries. There was no effort to dialogue with us as the parents.” Gabbard filmed the bishop’s interactions with the children and parents. Her video shows Bishop McElroy talking with a group of children for about two minutes and then talking to adults for about one minute before turning away.

Asked to comment on the parents’ petition to meet with Bishop McElroy, Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the San Diego diocese, said “Bishop McElroy met with parents [about] this issue on August 2 at the Pastoral Center.” When asked specifically about the diocese’s plans in the event of a vaccine mandate, Eckery said, “There’s really nothing to say right now. The earliest a mandate might take hold is at the end of January. Until more is known, we’re just going to follow developments.”

Joe Jones, the father of three San Diego Catholic school children, said that he attended the August 2 rally and afterward continued to ask the diocese for a meeting with the bishop or the diocesan director of schools, John Galvan. He would like to discuss the scientific data surrounding the danger Covid-19 poses to school-age children and ask that Bishop McElroy stand up to pro-abortion politicians, rather than acquiesce to their wishes concerning the safety of his children. “By this silence, you are nakedly affirming these anti-life politicians,” Jones said he wants Bishop McElroy to know. “Please prove us wrong and show us that you are our shepherds looking out for us.”

Jones said he would be “even more disheartened” if he were to learn that the diocese considered the bishop’s appearance at the August 2 rally to be a substitute for a meeting with “in-depth discussion.” He said that Bishop McElroy came outside the office for a “few minutes” before taking an NBC reporter, who was covering the rally, inside for an interview.

Sonia Salcido, the mother of a Catholic San Diego high school student, would like to speak to the bishop about how a vaccine mandate is a “one-size-fits-all approach to a virus that does not impact all people equally” and that Catholic schools ought to respect the conscience rights of Catholics who have moral objections to abortion-tainted vaccines.

“These are important questions about how we manage the health of our kids, whether it’s through masks or vaccines or social distancing or other measures,” Farry said. “We all care about our kids and keeping them safe. It’s worthy of a conversation about what are the best ways to do that.”
– Exclusive to Cal Catholic by Mary Rose