The Bishops on the COVID Vaccine

There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines that are being made available and distributed in the United States. One from Pfizer, one from Moderna, and one from AstraZenica. On December 12, the chairmen of the Committee on Doctrine, Bishop Kevin Rhodes of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, issued a statement on “MORAL CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING THE NEW COVID-19 VACCINES.” The statement is necessary because of concerns related to the connection of each vaccine to a line of cells that is morally compromised because they each have their origins in the abortion of a child several decades ago.

The bishops had petitioned the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to support the development of vaccines that have no connection to abortion at all. Indeed, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed using a cell line that has no connection to abortion at all. Let me repeat that because it’s important. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not developed from cell lines that had their origins in the cells of a child that was aborted. However, the test used to verify the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was developed from a cell line that had its origins in a child aborted in 1972. It is important to be clear that no child was aborted for the purpose of developing the test, and no cells directly from an aborted child were used to develop the test. Rather, cells were taken from the child aborted in 1972 and reproduced again and again and again over the decades, creating a cell line that has been used for various medical related research and benefits. The AstraZenica vaccine was developed from the line of cells with its origins in the child aborted in 1972. This makes it more morally compromised.

After re-affirming the Church’s teaching on abortion and expressing their disappointment that any of the vaccines have any connection to abortion, the bishops judged that, even still, it would be moral permissible for Catholics to receive the vaccines, though the AstraZenica only under certain conditions. Their judgment was based on four principles:

  1. The connection to abortion, especially for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, is sufficiently remote that it is morally permissible to receive the vaccine, in light of the fact that:
  2. The risk to health is real and serious. The world is facing a pandemic that has infected millions and has been the cause of death for hundreds of thousands in the U. S. alone. (The bishops don’t mention this, but there are serious health-related sequelae associated with the coronavirus, so even if one does not die, there is the risk of one’s health being negatively impacted for years after infection or even for the rest of one’s life);
  3. There are currently no alternative vaccines that have absolutely no connection to a morally compromised cell line available to those who wish to protect themselves or others from the coronavirus;
  4. The most important effect of the vaccine may not be protecting those who receive it, but protecting those who are most vulnerable to the virus should they become infected.

Clearly, the preference is for one to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, given that their connection to abortion is even more remote than the AstraZenica vaccines. However, the bishops acknowledge that people may not have a choice of which vaccine is available to them. Given that, if the only vaccine available is the AstraZenica, then Catholics may receive this vaccine. If, however, Catholics do have a choice, then they should avoid the AstraZenica vaccine in favor of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The bishops use the example of the rubella vaccine, which was also developed from the same cell line as the AstraZenica vaccine, as a vaccine that, while having a remote connection to abortion, is the only vaccine available for those who wish to protect themselves from an infection with serious or deadly implications for them and for the unborn children of pregnant mothers, and so is morally permissable to receive.

There are those who disagree with the bishops. They say that any connection to abortion morally compromises the vaccines to such a degree that they are completely compromised and it could not be moral to receive them. In a memo Bishop Rhodes and Archbishop Naumann shared with their fellow bishops on November 23, they make the point that some were “asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

In their December 12 statement, the bishops refer to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2005 document Dignitas Humanae that addressed the morality of receiving a vaccine that has a connection to abortion:

“The Holy See points out that there are different degrees of responsibility in cooperating
with the evil actions of others. With regard to people involved in the development and production
of vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explains that ‘in organizations where
cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to
use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.’ As for the moral
responsibility of those who are merely the recipients of the vaccines, the Congregation affirms that
a serious health danger could justify use of ‘a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of
illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement
and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.'”

The bishops have consistently petitioned the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to make other types of vaccines available, as they point out in their December 12 statement.

Personally, I am planning to receive the vaccine. I am a healthcare worker. I have a daughter with a heart condition who is pregnant. I do not wish to take on unnecessary risks as a healthcare worker, and I do not wish to put my daughter and her unborn child at risk. I have confidence that the Holy See and the USCCB have discerned and considered all of the moral questions related to receiving this vaccine, and I have confidence in their judgment.

There are those who will disagree with me, and I respect that. They are concerned that we are benefiting from vaccines that have a connection to abortion, even if one so remote. I would ask them to consider that every American is now living on land that was obtained by war, genocide or theft. Every Tennessean is familiar with the Trail of Tears, the forced evacuation without compensation of a community that had lived for centuries on the land on which we now live. Are you going to argue that we are morally compromised for living here? Or, are you going to claim that the evil actions of our ancestral government is sufficiently remote that they place no moral burden on us today?

The fledgling U. S. economy, including that of the northern states, was built on the backs of those forced into human bondage. So many of the bricks that represent today’s U. S. economy were laid on top of bricks, that were laid on top of a bricks, that were laid on top of a bricks, that were laid by slave labor. Are you going to argue that we are morally compromised for participating in the U. S. economy today because of the evil actions of our economic ancestors?

Many of our American ancestors benefited in their careers and in their academic enterprises from laws that excluded Blacks, Jews, the Chinese, the Irish and other ethnic or religious groups. In truth, you would not be where you are today if they had not had the opportunities given to them not so many decades ago. Are you going to argue that your career and academic achievements are morally compromised because your ancestors exploited the advantages given to them by a government not yet committed to equal opportunity for all?

Even today, there are some industries that are dominated by or completely controlled by organized crime. We benefit from these services. Are you going to argue that our participation in the economy of these services, our benefiting from these services, is so morally compromised that we cannot morally employ these necessary services?

It would be wonderful if morality was black and white. So often, it isn’t. So often – too often – we have to realize that our world is a mixed bag of good and bad, and it’s sometimes impossible to extract the bad from the mix of the good. Even our Church suffers such. There is wisdom in the counsel, “Don’t reject the good for the sake of the perfect.”

Those who disagree with the bishops are free to do so. What they are not free to do, however, is to insist that their’s is the only truly Catholic stance, and that those who agree with the bishops are lacking in fullness of faith, or in a full commitment to the pro-life cause. Neither are they free to denigrate the bishops, or their authority to teach on these moral matters. Neither are they free to presume for themselves the authority that rightfully belongs to the bishops. I would caution them against attempting to place a burden on the souls of their confreres that Christ and the Church do not place.

Those who agree with the bishops are free to do so. What they are not free to do, however, is to accuse those who disagree with them of being uncaring for others, or too much concerned about the morality of abortion. In their statement, the bishops themselves said that their judgment does not compromise in any way the Church’s teaching on the grave evil that is abortion, and caution against their judgment representing or allowing such a compromise.

Finally, I encourage charity in all things. Everyone must make their own decision regarding their receiving the vaccine. All should be free to make that decision without the genuineness of their faith or their concern for others being called into question.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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