After Washington state announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for school employees, the Bishop of Spokane said that conscience rights should be respected, but that priests shouldn’t sign documents regarding the conscience of another.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a COVID-19 vaccine requirement Aug. 18 for all employees who work in K-12 schools, most early childhood learning centers, and higher education. The mandate applies to public and private schools.

The mandate allows medical or religious exemption, but does not address conscientious exemption.

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane issued a statement in response to the governor’s mandate affirming the conscience rights of the individual Catholic to decide whether to receive the vaccine, while also stating that “priests should not be involved in signing any document concerning the conscience of another.”

Bishop Daly, while affirming the Church’s guidance that vaccination is morally permissible and beneficial for the common good, noted that clergy are not to “replace one’s conscience,” but to “assist with informing a person’s conscience.”

“While we encourage vaccination, we do not intend on violating the consciences of our Catholic school teachers nor do we intend on vouching for another person’s conscience,” Bishop Daly wrote. 

“If a person has health concerns or moral objections about vaccines, he or she should not be forced into being vaccinated.”

Bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. 

Some, such as the bishops of South Dakota, have explicitly expressed support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions, while in contrast, many bishops in California, as well as in Chicago and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, stating that there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds. 

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” 

It said that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the congregation wrote.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.