By Lisa Zengarini
As the United States gear up for its largest ever immunisation campaign against COVID-19, the US Bishops have decided to further clarify the Church’s position regarding vaccines that have some connection to cell lines originating from aborted foetuses, reminding that since the beginning of the pandemic it has advocated for the development of a vaccine that has no link to abortion.
In a statement released on December 14, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities reiterate that, given the urgency of the crisis, “the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified”.
Based on long-standing Church teachings
The statement explains that this position is based on the long-standing teachings of the Church on the sanctity of life, quoting Pope John Paul’s II Encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” and important documents by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that deal with the issue. Both the Vatican Congregation and the Pontifical Academy “emphasize the positive moral obligation to do good and in so doing to distance oneself as much as possible from the immoral act of another party such as abortion in order to avoid cooperation with someone else’s evil actions and to avoid giving scandal, which could happen if one’s own actions were perceived by other people to ignore or to minimize the evil of the action”, the two Bishops write.
Different degrees of responsibility
However, they add, "The Holy See points out that there are different degrees of responsibility in cooperating with the evil actions of others”. Regarding the moral responsibility of those who are merely the recipients of unetchical vaccines, the Vatican 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”.
Lack of available alternative
According to the US Bishops, although all the three vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca now available in the US have some connection to cell lines connected to aborted foetuses, their use would be morally justifiable in consideration of the present circumstances. These are: the lack, at present, of an available alternative vaccine “that has absolutely no connection to abortion”, the serious risk to public health and, most importantly, the need to protect the more vulnerable from the disease.
With regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine, the US Bishops note that it is “more morally compromised” than the the other two, and therefore “should be avoided” if there are alternatives available. However, if “one does not really have a choice of vaccine, at least, not without a lengthy delay in immunization that may have serious consequences for one’s health and the health of others”, they state that “it would be permissible” to accept it.
Warning against complacency on abortion
At the same time, the statement cautions Catholics against complacency on abortion: “While having ourselves and our families immunized against COVID-19 with the new vaccines is morally permissible and can be an act of self-love and of charity toward others, we must not allow the gravely immoral nature of abortion to be obscured”. Bishops therefore warn not to weaken the determination “to oppose the evil of abortion itself and the subsequent use of foetal cells in research”.