Some international voices accuse the Church of endangering millions of lives. Is it true? A fact-checking article
Some international media analysts have accused the Catholic Church of boycotting vaccination campaigns against the COVID-19 virus, thereby holding the Church responsible for the resulting deaths.
According to these reporters, the Church attacks or simply deflates these campaigns by raising ethical questions rooted in the role of cells derived from abortion at the origin of the vaccines.
For example, an article published by Debora Diniz and Giselle Carino in the pages of the Spanish newspaper El Pais stated, “Even when the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic is a global emergency, the Catholic Church returns to its own fanaticism by introducing abortion as a moral issue more urgent than saving millions of lives.”
The BBC has published an article in Spanish confirming the veracity of the information transmitted by the Vatican regarding the remote connection to abortion at the origin of some vaccines against COVID-19.
However, some of the experts consulted by the British publication consider that the Church should not insist on these aspects, as it runs the risk of having a negative impact on the current vaccination campaign, which is decisive in putting an end to the pandemic.
The BBC quotes Dr. José Ramón Orrantia, a bioethics specialist at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), who says that, although the Church is right, it should remain silent on this issue.
“It’s dangerous to promote ideas against vaccination, because that discourages people from getting vaccinated,” Orrantia says.
In a Newsweek report, Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University, says that with 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, “it’s a dangerous path” to sow doubts that could lead people to hesitate when deciding which vaccine to get.
Ultimately, according to some of these analysts, the Church could be held responsible for the deaths of thousands of people if vaccination campaigns fail or slow down because of the moral questions it raises.
Are these concerns well-founded, and is the Church jeopardizing vaccination campaigns and thus contributing to the prolongation of the pandemic with its enormous cost in human lives?
Let’s see if these concerns are borne out by reality.
First of all, we should note that Pope Francis has become the international moral authority most committed to the promotion of vaccination campaigns.
During this time of confinement, the two most important public interventions of Pope Francis, the Christmas and Easter “Urbi et Orbi” messages, have been aimed at calling for vaccines for all, particularly for the poor.
Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, have personally set an example by themselves getting vaccinated.
Further, the Vatican has set up a fund to finance vaccines for people in poor countries, and taken charge of vaccinating the poor around the Vatican.
Bishops’ conferences in several countries, particularly in the United States, have invited Catholics to get vaccinated as an “act of charity” to safeguard the lives of those around us and to overcome the dangers of the pandemic as soon as possible.
In countries where it has been asked to do so, the Catholic Church has made its own spaces available as vaccination centers.
How is it possible to accuse the Church of boycotting the vaccination campaign?
The Church, in fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, feels the moral obligation to always take the side of respect for the fundamental dignity of the human person.
For this reason, with data provided by science and confirmed by the pharmaceutical companies themselves, the Church, in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has warned against the moral gravity of using “cells from aborted fetuses (…) to create cell lines for use in scientific research.”
These cell lines are used, with differing levels of responsibility, in vaccines approved in Western countries.
It should be clarified that the COVID-19 vaccines are not made from cells taken directly from aborted human babies, but from cells created by scientists almost 50 years ago and continuously reproduced in the laboratory.
The U.S. bishops recalled that “Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production.”
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however,” the same bishops add, “was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns.”
Not “Formal Cooperation”
Now, given that the lives of millions of people are at risk, the Congregation clarifies that, “when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available (…) it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”
The Vatican clarifies: “All vaccinations recognized 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.”
If circumstances require it, as is currently the case in a pandemic, the Vatican Congregation recommends “vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.”
Health authorities and scientific experts, and even the pharmaceutical companies themselves, have noted the collateral effects of some vaccines, such as those produced by Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca. Some governments have even suspended vaccination campaigns for this reason.
It is both a scientific and a moral duty to verify these effects. At the same time, these marginal side effects are weighed by the authorities with the obligation to save millions of human lives. No one can morally accuse scientists or health authorities of boycotting vaccination campaigns when these side effects are observed and mentioned.
An act of conscience
In the same way, the Church does not boycott vaccination campaigns when it warns of the ethical problems that lie at the root of some vaccines.
Indeed, in its teachings the Church defends the right to be vaccinated, considering it an “act of charity.”
Those who have read the Gospel know that charity is, for Jesus Christ, the hallmark of Christians.
By offering its warnings, exhortations and testimony, the Church, in its role as a moral guide, is treating Christians as adults. Perhaps this is what some of the analysts who have criticized the Church and the Pope are not taking into account. They would prefer simple messages—black or white—but that’s not the reality of the situation.
Vaccination is an act of conscience, which each person must exercise in full freedom. That freedom must have access to the best possible information.
This is the humble contribution that this fact-checking article wishes to offer.