MEASLES ET AL.
I come to work and never quite expect what the day often brings. There are often so many surprises. Last year I arrived at work one day to find that several people in this diocese had raised a question about the requirement of the diocese that children in Catholic schools must be immunized in order to enroll in our schools. A check of the practices in other dioceses revealed that they too had this requirement but it was sometimes “more honored in the breach than the observance” [not my words but those of the "bard" of Avon]. The Catholic school superintendents in the state asked the bishops for a uniform policy which each diocese could implement.
What was their concern in the first place one might ask? The welfare of all children was primary as such childhood diseases as measles are quite contagious. The welfare of teachers and particularly pregnant women teachers who if they were to come into contact with a child with measles, again for example, could possibly give birth to a deformed child as a result of the contact. On its surface it seems such a simple matter.
But those seeking a change offer several concerns and want the Church to offer a “conscience exception” to the immunization. Some feel that to use a vaccine which comes from cell lines derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses is intrinsically evil. After consulting at several levels, the bishops of Florida said that there is no moral fault to be found in vaccinations which are derived from stem cells and that the greater moral danger was placing children and staff at risk by not requiring immunization for enrollment. A second concern has its roots in concern about the use of any medicine not absolutely required for health purposes but required for admission to a school.
At the end of the discussion, the bishops of Florida agreed to require immunizations as a greater good with no evil moral consequence. Thus, in this diocese the policy which will be uniformly enforced will be this: Catholic Schools within the Diocese of St. Petersburg require enrolling students submit a Florida Department of Health Certificate if Immunization as provided for in the Florida Statute 1003.22 as a condition precedent to acceptance. Catholic Schools in the Diocese of St. Petersburg do not recognize a religious objection to this immunization. This policy is effective as of the 2011/2012 school year.
I should note that state statute does allow for a religious exemption in the public schools if a parent can make such a case and thus our schools are stricter. It is believed that the legislature feared first amendment lawsuits and chose to grant an exemption. Since we are a private school system, however, we can require whatever we believe to be in the best interest of our students’ health and that of our teachers and staff as well.
This was not an easy call but it is a good one and part of our overall effort to provide a safe environment for our children. I hope everyone will understand. The Church does not play loose with its moral teaching and for sure is not doing so in this case. Pastors and principals are being notified of this policy and its uniform enforcement throughout the diocese will be expected.
Tags: Catholic Education