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Bishop Fernández TorresDiocese of Arecibo

ARECIBO, Puerto Rico (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres of Puerto Rico is the latest prelate supporting conscientious objections to COVID-19 vaccines and speaking out against vaccine mandates.

In a letter published Tuesday, Bishop Fernández clarified that “it is possible for a faithful Catholic to have conscientious objection” to compulsory vaccination and authorized priests and deacons to sign exemption requests.

The bishop, who leads the diocese of Arecibo in the northwest of Puerto Rico, highlighted “two important statements to clarify the issue of conscientious objection.”

“The first is that as a general rule vaccination should be voluntary,” he said. “And the second is that there may be those who, for reasons of conscience, reject the use of certain vaccines, either because they are still in an experimental phase or because they have been produced from cell lines of aborted fetuses.”

“We remember that the value and defense of life, as well as the seriousness of the sin of abortion, are part of our religious beliefs as Catholics,” the Arecibo bishop said. “We are also obliged to remember that, following the moral doctrine of the Church, in the face of difficult, sudden and morally disputed cases, shepherds of souls should not impose univocal solutions, but rather, following Saint Alphonsus, we should leave each to act according to his right conscience.”

“Therefore, it is possible for a faithful Catholic to have conscientious objection to the alleged mandatory nature of the Covid-19 vaccine,” he continued. “Respect for the conscience of the person is also Catholic doctrine.”

“Conscience, and its freedom, cannot be considered only as a civil right but is something intrinsic to our Catholic faith.”

Bishop Fernández further stressed that his diocese would support religious exemption requests of Catholics who come to the conviction that they cannot accept abortion-tainted, experimental coronavirus vaccines:

In accordance with what is expressed here, in our diocese of Arecibo, if the signature of an ordained minister is legitimately required to enforce conscientious objection, the priests and permanent deacons who are freely willing to sign it for the Catholic parishioner, who with a well-formed conscience has requested it, can do so or refer it to the Diocese of Arecibo.

Puerto Rico’s left-wing governor, Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, has enacted a series of radical COVID vaccine mandates targeting hundreds of thousands of workers and students in the past month.

Last week, Pierluisi issued an executive order mandating that public and private healthcare employees and government workers show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing as a condition of employment. The dictate also applies to hotel and restaurant workers.

Pierluisi previously ordered that all students over the age of 12 and school employees returning to in-person classes this fall must be “fully vaccinated” against the virus. At the same time, Puerto Rico has led the U.S. in employer-based coronavirus vaccine mandates, with one-fifth of businesses requiring proof of vaccination as of July, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Religious exemptions accepted by the government of Puerto Rico are notably strict, requiring religious ministers to sign requests and declare, under penalty of perjury, that COVID-19 vaccination would violate tenets of an applicant’s religion.

All coronavirus vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. have been tested on or produced with cell lines of aborted babies. The vaccines have been linked to serious side effects, and none has yet been fully approved by the FDA or subjected to long-term testing.

“[I]t 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,” Bishop Fernández wrote in his letter Tuesday. “And that safety and efficacy are relevant data and necessary for moral judgment.”

Along with Bishop Fernández, several Catholic leaders have recently released statements in support of the conscience rights of those who decide against taking COVID-19 shots.

The bishops of South Dakota published a letter last Tuesday backing religious exemptions for vaccine requirements, writing that “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.” “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,” Bishops Donald E. DeGrood and Peter M. Muhich wrote.

The Colorado Catholic bishops have released a similar letter, as have both the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) and the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), the former of which has produced a template for Catholics seeking exemptions.

“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.”

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, has also pushed back against COVID vaccine mandates and noted his personal objections to the shots. “As your shepherd, I cannot in good conscience receive a vaccine that has been produced by an aborted child,” he wrote to parishioners last year.

“I urge you to reject any vaccine that uses the remains of aborted children in research, testing, development, or production. Testify to the truth that abortion must be rejected and make a choice that is consistent with the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death and is rooted in a mature faith and trust in eternal life, not fear of suffering in this life.”

LifeSiteNews has produced an extensive COVID-19 vaccines resources page. View it here.