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Bishop rebukes Notre Dame president for COVID vaccine mandate

A Catholic bishop who also teaches at the University of Notre Dame rebuked his fellow Catholic priest for the imposition of a COVID vaccine mandate on students.

“Notre Dame will require all students – undergraduate, graduate, and professional – to be fully vaccinated as a condition of enrollment for the 2021–22 academic year,” university President John Jenkins, a priest, announced in early April.

Jenkins misinterpreted guidance from the Vatican on the moral permissibility of Catholics receiving a vaccine with remote connection to aborted fetal tissue, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki (above) said in a letter to the editor in the student paper.

“The [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] concluded that persons may — not must — get vaccinated,” Paprocki, the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield and an adjunct law instructor, said in The Observer. The CDF is a part of the Vatican that issued a statement on COVID vaccines.

Paprocki, along with Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley, said that the CDF concluded “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

Paprocki and Bradley said in their April 27 letter to the editor that many students likely have natural immunity and that herd immunity is easier to achieve among a generally young and healthy student body.

“Besides, several thousand Notre Dame students have already tested positive for the coronavirus,” the pair said. “They are naturally immune to the disease and have no need for the vaccine (No one knows for sure how long this natural immunity lasts, just as no one knows for sure how long the vaccine works).”

They said:

Notre Dame’s experience thus far confirms too what all the science indicates, namely, that college-age students who test positive rarely experience severe symptoms. Many are entirely asymptomatic. The Notre Dashboard, for example, reports no hospitalizations so far for COVID-19 pneumonia.

The pair also asked Jenkins to clarify what he meant when he said students with a “documented” religious reason would be granted an exemption from the mandate.

“Notre Dame should expand its understanding of ‘religious’ objectors to include those whose refusal to be vaccinated are rooted in moral considerations or other objections of conscience,” the letter to the editor said.

“A religious, moral or other exemption of conscience should be ascertained not by documents,” Paprocki and Bradley said,  “but by a simple conversation seeking only to establish that the individual has a sincerely held, reasonable belief that they should not receive the vaccine.”

Paprocki quoted the shared boss of him and Jenkins to make his point. “This would be in accord with the teaching of Pope Francis,” who said “[t]he conscience is the interior place for listening to the truth, to goodness, for listening to God.”

Read the letter to the editor.


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