SEATTLE – As Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced August 18 that all those who work in public and private schools, along with most state employees and health care workers, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne is making clear that Catholics do not have religious grounds for refusing the vaccine or seeking an exemption to the requirement.

“I highly encourage everyone to be vaccinated,” the archbishop wrote in a letter sent to parish leaders August 18.

The archbishop noted that Pope Francis has encouraged all people to be vaccinated as an “act of love.” The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has also said it is “morally acceptable” to receive the existing COVID-19 vaccines.

“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,” the archbishop wrote. “Similarly, it is not our place to sign any exemptions based on personal conscience. That is between each individual and their employer.”

He added, “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.”

Gov. Inslee said the vaccine mandate applies to those working in K–12 education — including “educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working” at public, private and charter schools, including Catholic schools — as well as most childcare and early learning, and higher education. Those who refuse to be vaccinated will be subject to dismissal, he said.

The governor also announced the expansion of the statewide indoor mask mandate, effective August 23. For Catholics, that will mean all parishioners must wear masks during all indoor Masses, even if they are vaccinated.