Bishop Kevin Vann
United States of America

Whereas the Biden administration is preparing to enact COVID-19 vaccine mandates that apply to health care workers, federal employees and contractors, and workers at large companies of 100 or more employees, such that, according to Census Bureau data collected on firms in Orange County, two-thirds of workers in OC and more than 80 million workers across the country will be affected because they work at large firms (New York Times, "Companies Are Waiting for OSHA Rules on Biden’s Vaccine Mandates", Oct 7 2021); and

Whereas further, the Biden administration is expecting many companies to announce vaccine-only policies, with no option for regular COVID-19 testing as an alternative (Ibid.); and

Whereas “in exercising the function of a pastor, a diocesan bishop is to show himself concerned for all the Christian faithful entrusted to his care, of whatever age, condition, or nationality they are”, and further, he is to "take care that [presbyters] correctly fulfill the obligations proper to their state” (cf. Can. 383 §1 and 384); and

Whereas the Christian faithful across the nation, including here in the Diocese of Orange, have recently approached their respective bishops and parish presbyters for urgent pastoral assistance as they exercise their God-given right, certified by Holy Scripture and abundant teaching of the Magisterium, to morally object to the medical intervention imposed on them by recent COVID vaccine mandates at their places of employment and schools; and

Whereas such imposition of medical intervention, without a religious exemption being granted by the employer or university, is directly causing the loss of education, income and livelihood among the faithful, resulting in a new class of poor and vulnerable in our society, who are being forced to choose between the unconscionable option of violating their conscience (which Church teaching prohibits) or being terminated from their jobs or matriculation at their university; and

Whereas in many cases, employers and universities have required the Christian faithful with a sincere moral objection to the vaccines founded upon their religious beliefs, to produce a verification statement and/or signature from a presbyter to support their claim that they make such objection in good conscience according to the tenets of their religion, such as in the following requirement found in one religious exemption application from an employer in Southern California, which states: “My sincerely held religious belief is opposed to being vaccinated against COVID-19. Attached is a signed statement, on official letterhead, from my faith’s priest, minister, chaplain, rabbi or official that explains the specific faith-based teachings that oppose immunizations”; and

Whereas if a bishop forbids his presbyters from signing such statements required by certain employers and universities, that bishop thereby offers proximate mediate material cooperation in the unjust disenfranchisement of this new class of poor and vulnerable, by leaving the faithful with no choice but to submit an incomplete religious exemption application that is all but sure to be duly rejected by their employer or university due to its incompleteness; and

Whereas the bishops of the California Catholic Conference have hitherto demonstrated nothing but proximate mediate material cooperation in the disenfranchisement of this poor and vulnerable class of the faithful by denying the faithful the pastoral assistance they need with religious exemption applications as demanded by employers and universities, and, further, whereas these same bishops have prevented their presbyters from correctly fulfilling their obligations proper to their state by prohibiting them from providing the form of help to the faithful which is both needed and morally licit, and which is practiced by other bishops and priests in the United States; and

Whereas bishops and presbyters in other jurisdictions outside of California have meanwhile avoided this cooperation in systemic injustice and have fulfilled the pastoral duty called for in these times by signing clergy verification statements required by employers and universities, such as we find in Bishop Conferences such as in Colorado and South Dakota, where the clergy offer both templates to the faithful and signatures for their exemption applications, and in the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts, where the Bishop states: “In charity as priests and deacons, we should help to support the conscience rights of the Catholic faithful on this and all matters. We can do this by attesting to their Sacramental Baptism and the ‘practicing’ of their Catholic faith, as a separate letter or statement, to support their letter or request for religious exemption, but to not compose or sign a letter or form ourselves [which our own Vicar General in Orange, borrowing from the instruction of the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, has rightly stated would be inappropriate]” (The Most Rev. William D. Byrne, Bishop of Springfield in Massachusetts, "Updated Directives and Information, COVID-19", Sep 14 2021); and

Whereas every member of the Catholic faithful is entitled to the same proportion of pastoral care, assistance, justice, and charity from the clergy, regardless of the geographical jurisdiction in which he may reside, for as St. Cyprian states, “The blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same sacrament of unity: ‘There is one body and one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God’ (Eph. 4:4). We should all firmly believe in and maintain this unity, but especially those of us who are bishops, so that we may prove the episcopate to be one and undivided” ("De catholicae ecclesiae unitate", nos. 4-5); and

Whereas in providing such “help to support the conscience rights of the Catholic faithful on this and all matters” by supplying a clergy verification signature and/or accompanying letter for religious exemption applications, these priests and deacons fufill the virtues of charity and justice enshrined in the principles of Catholic social teaching as applied to this new class of poor and vulnerable that has been created by vaccine mandates, for, as Pope Benedict XVI has stated, “to love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it” ("Caritas in Veritate", no. 7), and in the words of Pope Francis on the principle of solidarity: “In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters...We need only to look around us to see that, today, this option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good” ("Laudato Si", no. 158); and

Whereas it is the duty and calling of each bishop, priest and deacon to “open your mouth, judge justly, defend the needy and the poor” (Prov. 31:9) and to help secure the common good by doing justice and loving mercy (cf. Mic. 6:8) with “a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters”, including those who presently face disenfranchisement and loss of income and livelihood, and who desperately need the clergy’s “help to support the conscience rights of the Catholic faithful on this and all matters”; and

Whereas it is *not* within the duty or purview of the Church to make scientific judgments, insofar as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has recently stated that “we do not intend to judge the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, although ethically relevant and necessary, as this evaluation is the responsibility of biomedical researchers and drug agencies” (CDF, "Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines", 21 Dec 2020, no. 1); and

Whereas it *is*, however, the duty of the Church and her clergy to safeguard the teaching of the Church as it has been handed down, including the Church’s longstanding defense of the medical patient’s exclusive right and duty to carefully evaluate the therapeutic proportionality of each and every medical intervention proposed to the patient, including the safety and efficacy, and benefits and risks of each intervention as established “in the patient’s judgment” (cf. USCCB, "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 6th ed.", nos. 28, 32-33, 56-57); and

Whereas it is not morally permissible for the clergy t0 make this pastoral assistance of conscience rights contingent upon whether the clergy believes a patient’s conscience is well-informed or not, or erroneous or not, but rather, it is incumbent upon the clergy to support Church teaching that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation, and that, therefore, it must be voluntary”; and “a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience…if he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself”, while the clergy also encourages “those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, [to] do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent” (cf. CDF, "Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines", 21 Dec 2020, no. 5; and Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1790);

Therefore, we, the undersigned People of God in the Diocese of Orange, respectfully urge and implore Your Excellency, Bishop Vann, to kindly modify the current directive issued to priests in the Diocese of Orange, so that our local clergy are permitted to supply a clergy verification signature and/or an accompanying letter for the religious exemption applications submitted by members of the Christian faithful who have a sincerely-held conscientious moral objection to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

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The Urgent Call to Bishop Vann of Orange to Provide Pastoral Assistance for Religious Exemptions (Long Version) petition to Bishop Kevin Vann was written by Truth And Conscience and is in the category Religion at GoPetition.