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Bishop: Spokane diocese will follow COVID-19 vaccine mandate for school workers, with exemptions allowed

Aug. 25, 2021 Updated Wed., Aug. 25, 2021 at 9:06 p.m.

Catholic Bishop of Spokane, Thomas Daly is photographed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2018.  (kathy plonka)
Catholic Bishop of Spokane, Thomas Daly is photographed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2018. (kathy plonka)

Schools in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane will follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s directive mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all school employees throughout the state, including those in private schools.

That did not necessarily seem to be the case last week, as Bishop Thomas Daly then said that while the diocese encourages vaccination, “we do not intend on violating the consciences of our Catholic school teachers nor do we intend on vouching for another person’s conscience.”

Daly clarified his stance publicly Wednesday, saying parish schools will abide by the state’s vaccine mandate. The directive requires employees in all private, public and charter schools to be vaccinated or submit an appropriate exemption by Oct. 18.

“We continue to comply with Governor Inslee’s mandate that all school employees receive one of the approved vaccines,” the diocese said Daly wrote in a letter to priests Tuesday. A copy of the letter was not provided with the announcement.

Still, the diocese will acknowledge the receipt of “self-identified” religious exemptions from Catholic school employees. According to the diocese, “self-attestation is sufficient both in regards to state law on religious exemptions and church teaching.”

Daly reiterated that the church does not intend to violate a person’s conscience. Accordingly, Spokane priests will not sign off on religious exemption forms, according to the diocese.

“A Catholic school employee could, therefore, exercise his or her right to a religious exemption,” Daly wrote. “This exemption places the burden on the individual’s conscience rather than on Church approval.”

Representatives with Inslee’s office could not be immediately reached for comment. A state Board of Education spokesperson said the agency didn’t talk with the diocese about its stance.

Daly’s clarification fulfills a promise from his statement last week that further guidance was coming amid discussions between diocesan leaders and “civic and health officials” about government vaccination requirements.

The Spokane diocese oversees multiple Catholic schools in Eastern Washington, including in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Pasco and Walla Walla.

Other Catholic dioceses throughout the country, including those in El Paso, Texas and Lexington, Kentucky, have announced vaccine requirements for their employees.

While the diocese will allow self-attested religious exemptions, Daly reportedly encouraged priests to speak with employees and parishioners who are uncomfortable with vaccination to help them understand why the Church encourages it.

In Wednesday’s statement, the diocese indicated the bishop received his vaccination this spring.

“I am hopeful that mask-wearing and an increase in vaccinations will help bring an end to the suffering and death caused by this pandemic,” Daly wrote.

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