The archbishop of the U.S. military said on Tuesday that Catholic troops could refuse the mandated Covid vaccine on religious grounds.

“No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the military services, said in a statement.

Since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a military-wide vaccine mandate this summer, Broglio said, some service members have requested a religious exemption through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While he said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had determined that being vaccinated was “not sinful,” the church valued its teachings on the “sanctity of conscience.”

“This circumstance raises the question of whether the vaccine’s moral permissibility precludes an individual from forming a sincerely held religious belief that receiving the vaccine would violate his conscience,” he wrote. “It does not.”

Broglio has expressed support for President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for the military in the past — citing guidance from Pope Francis, the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the Covid shots are morally acceptable. The archbishop has expressed preference for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s remote link to human cells derived from abortions.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic,” he said in the statement. “If it were the only vaccine available, it would be morally permissible, but the faithful Catholic is to make known his or her preference for a more morally acceptable treatment.”

The question of religious exemptions is being raised across the country as states and businesses institute Covid vaccine requirements, falling in line with Biden’s new requirements for millions of American workers. A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that New York couldn’t impose such mandates on health care workers without allowing employers to consider religious exemption requests — an early test case as challengers oppose vaccine mandates.

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