Service members should not be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine against their conscience, the archbishop of the U.S. military archdiocese said on Tuesday.

In a Oct. 12 statement “on Coronavirus Vaccines and the Sanctity of Conscience,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA stated that “no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience.”

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible,” he said.

In August, the Pentagon announced that all service members would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In advance of that announcement, Archbishop Broglio said that receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States was morally permissible, and that a vaccine mandate “seems prudent” and would be “very similar” to mandates already enforced in the military.

The Pentagon press secretary said in August that a possibility existed for religious vaccine exemptions, but that the process of obtaining exemptions would differ among the various branches of the military.

On Tuesday, Broglio reiterated statements of the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to abortion-derived cell lines is morally permissible.

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some link to cell lines derived from a baby believed to have been aborted in the 1970s. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested using the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and produced using the cell lines.

The connection of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to abortion “has been for centuries considered remote material cooperation with evil and is never sinful,” Archbishop Broglio noted on Tuesday. He added that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “more problematic,” and while it is still “morally permissible” to use, Catholics should note their preference for the other two vaccines if possible.

Hundreds of thousands of service members are still not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an Oct. 10 Washington Post report. There are more than two million members of the U.S. military. Military branches have instituted various deadlines for the vaccination of all troops.

Regarding troops who are seeking a religious exemption to COVID-19 vaccines through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Broglio stated that although the vaccines are morally permissible to receive, they can be refused in conscience.

However, he added that those refusing vaccines must act to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through other means, out of “charity for their neighbors and for the common good.”

These acts would include “wearing face coverings, social distancing, undergoing routine testing, quarantining, and remaining open to receiving a treatment should one become available that is not derived from, or tested with abortion-derived cell lines,” he said.