San Diego Bishop McElroy presided during a Pentecost Mass in the parking lot of Good Shepherd Church in Mira Mesa. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said Thursday the Catholic church supports COVID-19 vaccinations and priests must “caringly decline” any requests from parishioners seeking a religious exemption.

“Such a declaration is particularly problematic because the Holy See has made it clear that receiving the COVID vaccine is perfectly consistent with Catholic faith, and indeed laudatory in light of the common good in this time of pandemic,” wrote McElroy in a letter on Wednesday to priests.

The Diocese of San Diego said there have been reports from California and around the country of priests being pressured to sign a form prepared by the Colorado Catholic Conference suggesting that there is a basis in Catholic teaching that justifies a religious exemption to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received their COVID-19 vaccinations in January. McElroy received his in February. 

San Diego Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan participated in the drug studies that resulted in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“My greatest worry is that signing this declaration [from the Colorado Catholic Conference] thrusts our priests into the impossible position of asserting that ‘the Catholic Church’s teachings may lead individual Catholics…to decline certain vaccines’ when those priests recognize that Catholic teaching proclaims just the opposite,” said McElroy.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego runs the length of California’s border with Mexico and serves more than 1.3 million Catholics in San Diego and Imperial counties. It includes 98 parishes and 49 elementary and secondary schools. 

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.