The COVID case count in Washington is extremely high and exploding across the state. Due to this exponential growth and the desire to keep people safe and open schools this fall, Governor Inslee announced two new mandates yesterday. We are waiting for the final proclamation from his office, which means there are nuanced areas that we do not yet have answers to. Please be patient as we wait for the final legal language, which may impact how we approach these mandates.
In the meantime, the main points are:
- Indoor Mask Mandate: This universal indoor mask mandate will take effect Monday, August 23. This means:
- All employees, volunteers and visitors must wear a mask while inside any building on a parish campus.
- All teachers, staff, volunteers, students, and visitors must wear a mask while inside any school building.
- All parishioners must wear a mask during all indoor Masses.
- Please note, anyone with a medical exemption should not be turned away.
- Vaccination Mandate for Schools: K-12 educators, staff, coaches, bus drivers and school volunteers will have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated. This means:
- All Catholic school staff, teachers, administrators, coaches, bus drivers and volunteers must be vaccinated.
- Medical exemptions are allowed.
- There is no religious exemption for Catholics.(See conscience exemption explanation below.)
No Catholic Religious Exemption for COVID-19 Vaccination
For Catholics, there is no religious ground for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have clearly stated that it is morally acceptable to receive the existing COVID-19 vaccines. Beyond that, the Holy Father has made it clear that receiving the vaccine is in keeping with our Catholic faith.
Yesterday, Archbishop Etienne sent a letter to all parish leaders, which read:
“Regarding religious exemptions to any COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the Archdiocese of Seattle is instructing its clergy not to provide or sign documents claiming a religious exemption. Similarly, it is not our place to sign any exemptions based on personal conscience. That is between each individual and their employer. …
“As you decline these requests, be gentle and pastoral with those who ask. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Affirm that the Church also emphasizes the voluntary nature of vaccinations. Share your desire to accompany them and encourage them to consider what other steps they will take to protect the vulnerable and look after the common good.”
Conscience Exemption Clarification
People may have reasons of personal conscience for not wanting to receive the vaccine. If they refuse for personal reasons, they must be willing to accept the consequences of their decision. Matters of conscience are between each individual and their employer or whatever institution they are answering to.
The Church has always upheld the role of conscience. Only the individual can speak on their own behalf regarding their conscience.
For the COVID-19 vaccine, the governor announced yesterday that personal and philosophical exemptions are not allowed.
Exemption and Accommodation Process
If a school employee wishes to receive an exemption to the vaccine mandate, then there is a specific interactive process that must be followed to find a reasonable accommodation for that employee. The process all schools should follow is:
- Step 1: Employee requests an exemption from a principal.
- Step 2: Principal refers the employee to Human Resources (HR@seattlearch.org).
- Step 3: HR meets with employee to discuss the reasons for the exemption.
- Step 4: HR speaks with principal to seek reasonable accommodation possibilities.
- Step 5: HR makes a decision and informs employee and principal.
- Step 6:
- If an accommodation is granted, the employee will have new working conditions per the accommodation.
- It the accommodation is not possible, the employee will need to be vaccinated or seek other employment.
Back to School: Take a Campus Approach
We recognize that some of our guidance may be confusing because parishes and schools are required to follow different sets of government regulations. While some decisions at a parish are left for pastoral discretion, this is not the case for a Catholic school, which is legally required to follow Department of Health guidance for schools. Any parish activity that involves children, such as Children’s Liturgy of the Word or Life Teen, should follow the guidance for K-12 schools.
We recommend that pastors and principals connect on the guidance to discuss the parish and school campus as a whole and determine the best practice for your location.
Ultimately, all efforts should be focused on providing a safe environment that minimizes “close contact,” promotes mask wearing, has good ventilation, encourages good hand hygiene and requests people stay home if they aren’t feeling well.
Guidance for Faith Formation
Based on the recent guidance, the Faith Formation team created this document especially for faith formation programs. Please share this with your faith formation team.