(CNS News) -- In keeping with longstanding church teaching on religious freedom and individual conscience, the Catholic bishops of Colorado have instructed their priests to sign religious exemption letters of the faithful who oppose receiving the COVID vaccination. The letters can be signed only for Colorado Catholics.
"[T]here is no Church law or rule that obligates a Catholic to receive a vaccine -- including COVID-19 vaccines," state the bishops in their Aug. 6 letter on COVID vaccination mandates.
"Vaccination is not morally obligatory and so must be voluntary," state the bishops. "The Catholic Church teaches that a person may refuse a medical intervention, including a vaccination, if his or her conscience leads them to that decision.... [T]hat person should follow their conscience, and they should not be penalized for doing so."
There are numerous reasons why someone might not want to receive the COVID vaccination, including potential side effects or concern over the vaccines not being fully approved by the FDA.
However, another reason, cited by the bishops, concerns the history and production of the vaccines.
"There is a moral duty to refuse the use of medical products, including certain vaccines, that are created using human cell lines derived from abortion," state the bishops. "However, it is permissible to use such vaccines only under case-specific conditions -- if there are no other alternatives available and the intent is to preserve life."
The bishops also warn against big government imposing mandates that violate human rights and freedom of conscience.
"We always remain vigilant when any bureaucracy seeks to impose uniform and sweeping requirements on a group of people in areas of personal conscience," reads the bishops' letter. "Throughout history, human rights violations and a loss of respect for each person’s God-given dignity often begin with government mandates that fail to respect the freedom of conscience."
"In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are convicted that the government should not impose medical interventions on an individual or group of persons," declare the bishops. "We urge respect for each person’s convictions and personal choices."
They continued, "The three Colorado Catholic dioceses remain committed to working with public health and other secular authorities to protect the wellbeing of our communities, at the same time urging that personal freedoms of conscience and expression be fully supported, and the integrity and autonomy of religious institutions be respected."
"The vaccination question is a deeply personal issue, and we continue to support religious exemptions from any and all vaccine mandates," said the bishops.
The exemption letter template, for Colorado Catholics, can be read here.
The statement by the Colorado Catholic Conference is signed by
Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver
Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo
Most Reverend James R. Golka
Bishop of Colorado Springs
Most Reverend Jorge Rodriguez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver