Pope Francis – and indeed Pope Benedict – made a point of being vaccinated publicly; Pope Francis has from the outset expressly supported the programme. Recently he took part in a video to encourage people to become vaccinated: “Getting the vaccines that are authorised by the respective authorities is an act of love,” he said. “And helping the majority of people to do so, is an act of love… Getting vaccinated is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.”
The pope could not be clearer about the morality of the vaccine, yet, as Simon Caldwell describes in an article for this magazine, there are a number of Catholics who do not feel in good conscience that they can accept vaccines when they derive from cell lines taken from two aborted foetuses; this is the case with the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines.
A priest in the Portsmouth diocese has condemned the vaccine and urged his parishioners to avoid it. In the US there are divisions between the bishops on the issue. In Colorado, the state’s four bishops issued a joint letter declaring that they were pleased to see that the city of Denver’s recent vaccine mandate included a religious exemption, adding that only “some” Covid-19 vaccines were “morally acceptable under certain circumstances”.
Of course, many people have reservations about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, but it seems clear that the risks of vaccination are greatly outweighed by its protection against Covid. Moral reservations are another matter. Catholics who feel uneasy about indirectly profiting from abortion should read the lucid instruction from the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, which makes clear that accepting the vaccine does not imply active co-operation with a moral evil, especially in the face of a clear danger from the Covid virus. It says: “All vaccinations recognised as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”
That could hardly be more explicit. The statement goes on to emphasise that this does not imply any kind of approbation for abortion; the preference must always be for cell lines that are not procured from an abortion. Catholics then should not be concerned about being vaccinated as part of our duty to care for one’s own body and the wellbeing of others.
Whether vaccination is an absolute moral imperative is another matter. Catholicism is not an extension of collective groupthink, and is rooted in conscience, choice and individual moral responsibility. Church and state are not the same. But in any sane audit of the moral advantages and disadvantages of the Covid vaccine, the benefits of protecting ourselves and our neighbours from serious harm outweighs other considerations.
This article first appeared in the September 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today
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