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St. John’s Seminary, Boston / Archdiocese of Boston

Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2021 / 12:03 pm (CNA).

Catholic seminaries in the northeast are requiring COVID-19 vaccination for their seminarians before the coming semester begins. 

Mt. Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland is one of the colleges requiring students and seminarians to be vaccinated before coming to campus in August 2021. 

Students were given at least a few months to apply for a religious or medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but the deadline was July 30, Donna Klinger, director of public relations and communications for the university, told CNA in a phone call 

Students still seeking an exemption will not be allowed to physically return to campus, Klinger told CNA, but they will have the opportunity to work with the university administration to attempt online learning. Not all university classes are offered online.

At St. John’s Seminary in Boston, vice rector Fr. Thomas Macdonald said seminarians are “expected” to be vaccinated.

The job of a priest requires being close to the people, Macdonald noted, telling CNA that a priest needs access to places that house vulnerable people such as nursing homes. St. John’s is allowing seminarians to opt out of vaccination, but in such cases the seminarian must explain his reasoning for doing so. 

Most of the seminarians are already vaccinated, according to the vice rector. 

Macdonald told CNA that requesting religious exemptions to the vaccine also raises “theological questions,” as the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already clarified that the use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to cell lines derived from abortions is not immoral. 

According to the same December 2020 doctrinal note of the congregation, the Vatican also stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” The note went on to recognize conscientious refusal of vaccines, explaining that those who refuse COVID-19 vaccines with connections to cell lines derived from abortions, “for reasons of conscience,” must take appropriate precautions to avoid transmitting the virus. 

Seton Hall University is requiring its students and seminarians to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as well. These students may still opt-out “while COVID-19 vaccines are authorized on an emergency-use basis.”

Although the three vaccines authorized for use in the United States have only an emergency use authorization of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the administration reportedly might issue full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine within weeks. 

“We do recognize the legitimate concerns of individuals in the Seton Hall community around COVID-19, and there are exemptions for religious beliefs, pre-existing health conditions or personal reasons while COVID-19 vaccines are authorized on an emergency-use basis,” said the university’s director of media relations, Laurie Pine, to CNA in an email statement. 

An emergency use authorization allows the FDA to expedite its approval of a medical product during public health emergencies. 

In its July 2 statement on vaccine mandates, the National Catholic Bioethics Center cautioned against mandates, especially when the COVID vaccines have yet to be fully approved by the FDA. The center said “it would be a radical departure from past practice to impose a mandate involving an unapproved vaccine available only under an Emergency Use Authorization.”

It is unclear whether Seton Hall will no longer allow exemptions after COVID-19 vaccines are fully approved.