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Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto RicoYouTube

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (LifeSiteNews) – Six of Puerto Rico’s seven Catholic bishops have announced that they will begin segregating Mass based on COVID-19 vaccination status in their dioceses, in addition to imposing vaccine mandates for employees and clergy.

In a document published by the Episcopal Conference of Puerto Rico (CEP) on Tuesday, the bishops wrote that “in our respective dioceses and parishes we will be reserving a space for the unvaccinated for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations.”

“We suggest that those not vaccinated, at least for the present time and until a later determination of the CEP, refrain from participating in the other in-person community activities of the churches,” they added. “The rule that Communion will be distributed only in the hands remains in force.”

Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres of Arecibo, who released a letter last week backing conscience objections to the experimental, abortion-tainted COVID-19 vaccines, notably did not add his name to the CEP document.

Since the onset of COVID-19, Puerto Rico has recorded fatal cases of the virus in less than one-tenth of one percent of the island’s nearly 3.3 million people. Daily coronavirus deaths in Puerto Rico have typically averaged in the single digits in the past month, with zero deaths reported on multiple days.

The Puerto Rican government, led by left-wing Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, a member of the Democratic Party, has nevertheless implemented a series of radical public health measures in recent weeks, including vaccine requirements for healthcare workers, public employees, teachers, students, and tens of thousands of workers in the private sector.

The bishops of Puerto Rico endorsed those policies on Tuesday and unveiled even stricter vaccine requirements of their own, threatening that “all priests and deacons participating in liturgies must be vaccinated or at least have received the first dose” by September 15. Employees and volunteers “who perform their tasks or services in person” must likewise be “fully vaccinated” by the same date or face termination.

The bishops further rejected all religious exemptions to the vaccines, claiming that “there is no basis in the moral teaching of the Church to reject vaccination requirements.”

“Priests, deacons or pastoral agents of the Church must not endorse such exemptions under oath since there is no basis in the moral teaching of the Church to reject vaccination requirements,” they wrote.

In another document released Tuesday, the prelates noted that they “will not be accepting affidavits that affirm that the teachings of the Church are grounds for rejecting vaccination and/or similar text since this assertion has no basis in moral teaching of the church.”

Bishop Fernández of Arecibo declared the opposite in a letter last week, however, writing that “it is possible for a faithful Catholic to have conscientious objection to the alleged mandatory nature of the Covid-19 vaccine.” He added that “it is legitimate for a faithful Catholic to have doubts about the safety and efficacy of a vaccine given that what the pharmaceutical companies or drug regulatory agencies say is in no way a dogma of faith.”

“Respect for the conscience of the person is also Catholic doctrine,” the Arecibo bishop continued, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which stresses that, “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.’”

Priests and deacons in the diocese of Arecibo are authorized to sign parishioners’ exemption requests, Bishop Fernández said, echoing similar announcements this month from the bishops of South Dakota and Colorado.

All COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in Puerto Rico, including the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson shots, have been tested on or produced with cell lines derived from tissue of aborted children.

“Any link to the abortion process, even the most remote and implicit, will cast a shadow over the Church’s duty to bear unwavering witness to the truth that abortion must be utterly rejected,” a group of Catholic prelates warned in a letter last year. “The ends cannot justify the means,” they said, describing abortion as “one of the worst genocides known to man.”

The coronavirus vaccines also pose risks of serious complications and unknown, long-term effects, while recent data has shown that the jabs increasingly fail to prevent deaths and hospitalizations in highly-vaccinated countries, amid spikes in breakthrough cases with COVID-19 variants that experts have said will grow stronger due to vaccination.

“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 National Catholic Bioethics Center  (NCBC) wrote 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.”