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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bishop Thomas Daly says Spokane diocese will not follow mandate requiring K-12 school workers to get vaccinated

Catholic Bishop of Spokane, Thomas Daly is photographed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes on Oct. 30, 2018.  (Kathy Plonka/Spokesman-Review)
By Sophia McFarland The Spokesman Review

Bishop Thomas Daly of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane announced this week that he does not plan to enforce a vaccination mandate for teachers and staff members in Catholic schools, an apparent violation of Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent teacher vaccination mandate.

“While we encourage vaccination,” Daly said in a statement issued Thursday, “we do not intend on violating the consciences of our Catholic school teachers nor do we intend on vouching for another person’s conscience.”

The statement suggests Daly plans to violate Inslee’s order issued on Wednesday: “Employees in all private, public, and charter schools must be vaccinated by October 18th.”

Daly said that although the church recognized COVID-19 vaccines as “morally permissible,” in Catholic theology, a person’s conscience may not be violated.

“We are in conversation with civic and health officials about government mandated vaccination requirements and will offer further guidance to parish and school personnel in due time,” Daly wrote.

The announcement contrasts with some other Catholic dioceses, including El Paso, Texas, and Lexington, Kentucky, which have announced vaccine requirements for their own employees, according to the Washington Post.

In a letter announcing a mandate for church employees, El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz wrote that “I could not live with myself if I did not do all in my power to assure that the Church’s ministry does not place others at risk.”

“Those who work and perform ministries in a special way represent the Church,” Seitz wrote. “We need to lead by example. Vaccines and, particularly, Covid vaccines have saved and are saving thousands of lives. We have a responsibility as Catholic Christians to act on behalf of the common good and not just for ourselves as individuals.”

The Spokane diocese runs 17 schools in the state, including St. Aloysius and St. Charles elementary schools and Gonzaga Prep high school.

Despite his stance against the vaccine mandate, Daly is joining multiple other bishops suggesting priests should not validate an individual’s attempt to get a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate.

His statement says “priests should not be involved in signing any document concerning the conscience of another.”

Several dioceses, including New York and Philadelphia, have made similar pronouncements.

“Individuals may wish to pursue an exemption from vaccination based on their own reasons of conscience,” Kenneth Gavin, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. “In such cases, the burden to support such a request is not one for the local Church or its clergy to validate.”

Shannon Dunne, an associate professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University, said that “a conscience” was present in Catholic teaching since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a conscience is the “moral reason” of an individual.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis urged Catholics to receive the vaccine as an “act of love.”

However, according to a study from the Pew Research Center in 2016, only about 11% of American Catholics turn to the pope for “a great deal” of guidance on difficult moral choices. While roughly 73% of U.S. Catholics say they rely on their own conscience when facing difficult moral problems.

Dunne said that in Catholicism, no one can compel someone to do something that violates their conscience. In response to Daly’s statement, Dunne said, “The question would be, what is the basis for a claim of conscience?”

In other words, she said, why would your conscience be telling you that the vaccine is against your moral compass? She noted that the vaccine has saved lives and questions why one’s conscience would oppose getting a vaccine.