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(LifeSiteNews) – In a letter last week, the Catholic bishops of South Dakota endorsed exemptions to vaccine mandates, stressing support for “any Catholic who has come to this conviction in seeking religious exemption from any Covid-19 requirement.”

“We have recently received a significant number of inquiries from the faithful concerning general requirements for some persons to receive a Covid-19 vaccination,” wrote Bishop Donald E. DeGrood of Sioux Falls and Bishop Peter M. Muhich of Rapid City.

The two prelates noted a statement they had published last December that rejected the notion of a “general duty on the part of all persons” to receive abortion-tainted coronavirus vaccines.

“As we said then, one may accept Covid-19 vaccines in good conscience if certain conditions are met, but doing so is not a universal moral duty. We echoed the Vatican, which explained in a doctrinal note that ‘practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation,’” Bishops DeGrood and Muhich said. 

“Now, recent inquiries from the faithful raise the corollary question of whether a Catholic must be vaccinated if required to do so by an employer or other authority,” they continued. The bishops highlighted Church teachings, like the necessity of free and informed consent for any medical procedure, that apply in cases of COVID-19 vaccine mandates:

The Church teaches and right reason affirms that, as a general rule, free and informed consent is required prior to all medical treatments and procedures, including vaccination.

Consent is informed if a person knows the essential nature of the proposed treatment and its benefits; its risks, side-effects, consequences, and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternatives, including no treatment at all.

Consent is free if one has the ability to decline a medical intervention following discernment of relevant information and in accord with one’s certain conscience, without coercion or fear of punishment.

We are bound to follow our consciences if we are certain of them. We have a duty to form our consciences in accord with right reason and the good willed by the wisdom of God. 

There is a general moral duty to refuse medical interventions that are in some way dependent upon cell lines derived from abortion; however, such are permissible if there is a proportionally grave need, no alternatives are available, and one makes one’s objection known. Even then, a well-formed conscience might decline such interventions in order to affirm with clarity the value of human life. 

We have the right to freely follow our conscience. We must not be forced to act contrary to our conscience, i.e., to be compelled to do something we believe to be wrong. Nor must we be prevented from acting according to our consciences, especially in religious matters, provided that just public order be respected. 

The right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom is based on the inherent dignity of the human person. 

“Consistent with the above, a Catholic may, after consideration of relevant information and moral principles, discern it to be right or wrong to receive one of the available Covid-19 vaccines,” wrote Bishops DeGrood and Muhich. “If he or she thus comes to the sure conviction in conscience that they should not receive it, we believe this is a sincere religious belief, as they are bound before God to follow their conscience.”

“We support any Catholic who has come to this conviction in seeking religious exemption from any Covid-19 requirement,” they added, calling for respect for conscience rights from “both public and private entities.”  

The Colorado Catholic Conference released a similar statement earlier this month, condemning coercive coronavirus vaccination and endorsing religious exemptions to vaccine requirements.

In their December letter, the two South Dakota bishops had stressed that COVID-19 vaccines currently in circulation pose risks of unknown, long-term side effects, and that the virus “has not proven lethal or even particularly dangerous” to most people.  

They noted that “the vaccines are yet new and were created in a timeframe without precedent in modern medicine. To our knowledge, those vaccines currently authorized under an [Emergency Use Authorization] have not yet been tested on or approved for children, and impact on fertility, pregnancy, and other long-term effects are unknown.” 

“For the overwhelming majority of people, COVID-19 has not proven lethal or even particularly dangerous, and pursuant to official vaccine distribution plans, the most vulnerable will be afforded the opportunity to immunize prior to the general public, which further mitigates the possible risk posed to those in high-risk categories,” they continued.  

“Therefore, there is no general duty on the part of all persons, irrespective of age, health, occupation, and other circumstances, to receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” the bishops concluded. “Vaccination for COVID-19 is not a universal moral obligation.” 

In a note published days before, the Vatican stated that accepting abortion-tainted COVID-19 vaccines could be “morally acceptable,” “[i]n the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic,” but “is not, as a rule, a moral obligation.” Research has shown that antiviral therapies, like ivermectin, can treat COVID-19.

A group of prelates, including Cardinal Janis Pujats of Riga, Latvia, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, has contested the morality of the vaccines on the grounds that even “remote” cooperation in the evil of abortion “can never be justified.” 

All of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in circulation in the United States have connections to fetal cell lines, whether in design, development, or testing, and have also been linked to serious side effects such as myocarditis and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Both the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) and the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) have publicly opposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, as well. The NCBC provided a template for those seeking a religious exemption from vaccine requirements.  

“The novelty of the SARS-CoV-2 and of the technologies for eliciting an immune response to prevent or mitigate COVID-19 leave several medical questions unanswered,” the NCBC said in July. “Only time and careful study of the virus and benefits and adverse effects of the vaccines will provide the answers many persons need to give free and informed consent.”