US soldiers don't need to get vaccinated if it burdens their conscience, a US archbishop has said.
The US military said in August that all troops must be vaccinated, or apply for an exemption.
Many Catholics object to the vaccines as cells originally from an abortion were used in the development.
A US archbishop said Catholic soldiers don't have to get vaccinated against COVID-19, defying the wishes of Pope Francis.
On August 24, the Department of Defense announced that all 2.1 million US troops must be vaccinated. A number of personnel applied for exemptions on religious grounds, but several quit in protest.
Active-duty US Air Force personnel must be vaccinated by November 2, active-duty US Navy and Marine personnel by November 28, and active duty US Army personnel by December 15.
But in a statement released Tuesday, Timothy P. Broglio, the Archbishop for the Military Services, said that Catholic soldiers should not have to get vaccinated.
"No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience," Broglio wrote.
As of October 10, hundreds of thousands of US troops remain unvaccinated, according to The Washington Post.
Opposition to the vaccine in the Catholic faith, as Broglio wrote, stems from the fact that a number used cells derived from aborted fetuses as part of their development.
No tissue related to fetal cells are present in any of the finished vaccines, and the use of cells in the development and production of medicines, including vaccines, is common in medicine.
Manufacturers and scientists use fetal cell lines - which is not the same as fetal tissue - from fetuses that were aborted decades ago and replicate for decades in laboratories.
Catholic leaders said they viewed the Pfizer and Moderna as acceptable, because the vaccines used the fetal cell lines in their development but not production.
But the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in March that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is considered ethically questionable as the cells are used in its production.
"The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic," Broglio wrote.
Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson used cells that originally came from an 18-week-old fetus that was aborted in 1985.
Broglio said it is acceptable for Catholic soldiers to pass on all vaccines, due to the issue of fetal cells.
Broglio's statement stands in stark contrast to Pope Francis' decision to urge all Catholics to get vaccinated in August. The Pope was first vaccinated in January.
Broglio said in his statement that it was important that troops who decline the vaccine embrace all "means to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through wearing face coverings, social distancing, undergoing routine testing, [and] quarantining."
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