Letter of Exemption Requests

September 16, 2021

To the priests and deacons of the Diocese of Pembroke

This sixteenth day of September, 2021

Dear confreres:

In recent days, I have been asked if clergy would be permitted to write a letter requesting that people be exempted from the requirement to be vaccinated for employment or other activities.

After much prayer and reflection on this matter and after consulting with my advisors, I have decided not to sign any letters requesting exemptions. My main reason is that since the recent government laws – both in Quebec and Ontario – that require everyone to present a vaccination passport in certain public places and that allow any employer who wishes to do so to impose the COVID vaccines on their employees, the only exemptions that will be granted to the non-vaccinated will have to come from doctors and not from religious or other figures. These physicians will also be required to meet the strict criteria for exemption by health authorities. Therefore, a request for exemption signed by a bishop or a pastor will have virtually no effect or credibility in the eyes of health authorities, employers who have decided to force their employees to be vaccinated, or business owners who must now turn away anyone who does not have a vaccination passport (or an exemption certified by their doctor).

I will always be a strong advocate for respecting human rights and the choices an individual makes after carefully forming his or her conscience, as the Catholic Church has always taught since its origins. That is why I invite everyone, especially Christians, to respect the conscience of others, both those who have decided to be vaccinated and those who have chosen not to be vaccinated for personal or moral reasons.

We Christians live in a de-Christianized and secularized society and culture, unlike what our ancestors and some of us knew not so long ago. In spite of this, I encourage you to pursue faithfully your witness of faith and love of God and neighbour in this secularized and often de-Christianized world that surrounds us and that pressures us in a thousand and one ways.

The attempt by the clergy to intervene in the employer-employee relationship may have legal consequences for either the priest/deacon or the diocese.

For the reasons stated above, I do not authorize you to sign letters of exemption for those who request them. In your own words, express to them the reasons I am giving in this letter for my decision. You may also give them the attached document from the Vatican which will remind their employer that respect for the well-formed conscience of all individuals must always be respected. This is a fundamental right that our Holy Mother Church has always promoted. Although the Roman document ends up recommending (not mandating) COVID vaccines, it also explicitly recognizes the right of every individual to have their conscience respected, including if they have decided not to be vaccinated. This more moderate approach toward those who will ask you for an exemption may ultimately be more effective than if they present their employer with a letter of exemption signed by the bishop or their pastor.

Thank you for your attention and understanding of this letter.

With kind regards and the assurance of my fraternal prayer, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Guy Desrochers, C.Ss.R.
Bishop of Pembroke

Print your tickets