Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the military services, said in a statement that, "no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience."
Broglio encouraged troops to get the vaccine, but acknowledged that some people have questioned whether the church's position encouraging the shot "precludes an individual from forming a sincerely held religious belief that receiving the vaccine would violate his conscience."
Some service members have requested religious exemptions through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a military-wide vaccine mandate this summer.
While explaining that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had determined that being vaccinated was "not sinful," Broglio stated the church valued its teachings on the "sanctity of conscience."
"This circumstance raises the question of whether the vaccine's moral permissibly precludes an individual from forming a sincerely held religious belief that receiving the vaccine would violate his conscience," Broglio wrote. "It does not."
Broglio also cited a church teaching that states: "Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths."
The archbishop previously expressed support for President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for the military. At the time, he cited guidance from Pope Francis, the Holy See, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the COVID-19 shots are morally acceptable.
Broglio on Tuesday claimed the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were preferred because of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine's 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.
The church’s guidance allows Catholics to take vaccines derived from fetal tissue when no other vaccine option is available.
"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."
Broglio insisted that military personnel who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine must "continue to act in charity for their neighbors and the common good" by wearing masks, social distancing, and being tested routinely.
He added that troops should remain open to receiving a vaccine once a treatment becomes available that is "not derived from, or tested with abortion-derived cell lines."
The Archdiocese for the Military Services was created by the church in 1985 and claims responsibility for 1.8 million service members and their families at 220 installations, Defense One said. Broglio was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.