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Bishop Kevin Sweeney, Fr. James Martinscreenshot/Twitter/Fr. James Martin, SJ

CLIFTON, New Jersey (LifeSiteNews) — The bishop of the Diocese of Paterson warned that priests who do not accept the abortion-tainted COVID-19 injections could face removal from “active ministry,” though he shied away from actually mandating the injections.

The letter from Bishop Kevin Sweeney, dated September 14 and seen by LifeSiteNews, referred to that day’s feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and appeared to equate the COVID-19 injections with the “life giving power of the holy cross.”

“The emergence of the vaccines … is God sent,” wrote Bishop Sweeney, appointed to the diocese only last year by Pope Francis.

Copying many of his brother bishops in the U.S. in referencing Pope Francis’ description of receiving the abortion-tainted injection as an “act of love,” Sweeney stated that “our clergy should be vaccinated voluntarily as a good example to others and in solidarity” with “teachers and religious educators” who were subject to state mandates.

“If you have not been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to be vaccinated,” wrote Sweeney. “This encouragement is one step short of a mandate.”

“This is an essential time when you must be vaccinated to protect yourself and the health of others,” he continued. “If you feel that you are unable to be vaccinated, please be in touch with one of [sic] diocesan Vicars General in order to discuss your reasoning with them so that they may consult with me for further discussion on particular individual exemptions and whether a priest who is not vaccinated can remain in active ministry.”

“Exemptions from vaccination for clergy, other than those for legitimate medical reasons, will be minimal,” warned the bishop. He did not mention any possibility of religious or conscience-based exemptions.

LifeSiteNews reached out to Sweeney, who reiterated that his letter “was NOT a mandate.”

The controversial December 2020 note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had stipulated that any vaccination should be voluntary: “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

The CDF’s note had deemed the COVID-19 injections to be “morally acceptable,” despite their connection to abortion, since “[t]he moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation [with abortion] is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent — in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”

However, guidance from the U.S. National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) affirmed that the “sure judgement” of one’s own conscience regarding the moral liceity of taking any medical intervention “must be obeyed.” The NCBC concluded that “if a Catholic comes to an informed and sure judgment in conscience that he or she should not receive a vaccine, then the Catholic Church requires that the person follow this certain judgment of conscience and refuse the vaccine.”

Just days ago, Lexington’s Bishop John Stowe similarly moved against his unvaccinated clergy, forbidding priests who haven’t taken the vaccines from ministering to the sick and housebound, and ordering at least two priests to reveal their unvaccinated status to their parish.

At the time, LifeSiteNews spoke with Dr. Joseph Meaney, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, who questioned why clergy had managed to “safely bring the sacraments to patients suffering from COVID in hospitals using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and safety protocols for administering the sacraments without needing to be vaccinated. This leads one to wonder how it would not be possible to do so for the sick in general?”

While vaccine mandates are characterized as a way to prevent COVID infections and deaths, many are warning that such a result will not occur.

Strongly warning against the injections, New York physician Dr. Nina Pierpont recently published a paper declaring that COVID-19 vaccine mandates are a “potentially harmful, damaging act.” The paper, which examined a number of studies published as recently as August this year, was subtitled: “Covid-19 vaccines do not keep people from catching the prevailing Delta variant and passing it to others.”

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now lists a total of 701,561 adverse events following COVID vaccines between December 14, 2020, and September 10, including 14,925 reports of deaths.

Data also record 19,827 total adverse events, including 1,169 rated as serious and 19 reported deaths, among 12–17-year-olds in the U.S in the same time period.