Lianne Laurence reports for LifeSiteNews : The bishops of England and Wales have walked back their controversial July statement declaring Catholics “have a prima facie duty to be vaccinated.”
In a September 24 statement, the bishops now say it is a matter of individual conscience, while at the same time defending Catholics who choose to take a vaccine derived from an aborted baby as acting in “good conscience.”
However, this position appears at odds with recent statements by several high-ranking prelates and lay Catholics in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the global race by pharmaceutical giants to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
In an open letter in May, former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Joseph Zen, and Janis Pujats stated that “for Catholics it is morally unacceptable to develop or use vaccines derived from material from aborted fetuses.”
In April, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, urged Catholics to join him in opposing such research, and said he would refuse a vaccine developed using cell lines harvested from an aborted baby.
“Even if it originated decades ago it still means a child’s life was ended before it was born & then their body was used as spare parts,” he reiterated in an August tweet. “We will never end abortion if we do not END THIS EVIL!”
Adding to the confusion are shades of differences in Vatican documents on this issue.
The 2005 Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL) “Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses” and the 2008 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) Instruction Dignitatis Personae on “Certain Bioethical Questions” state that such vaccines must be opposed vigorously, but can be used on a temporary basis in certain strictly defined circumstances.
However, the PAL document “Clarifications on the medical and scientific nature of vaccination” issued in 2017 in collaboration with the Italian Bishops’ Conference and the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors, differs notably from its predecessors in placing the individual’s primary moral duty on taking vaccines to ensure public and personal health.
It also minimizes moral objections to accepting vaccines developed using aborted babies, stating: “the cell lines currently used are very distant from the original abortions and no longer imply that bond of moral cooperation indispensable for an ethically negative evaluation of their use.”
It was the 2017 PAL note the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) relied on for its much denounced July document that suggested Catholics could not conscientiously object to taking a COVID-19 vaccine that was developed using aborted baby cell lines.
“We support the Pontifical Academy for Life’s belief that ‘all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion’,” they wrote then.
“The Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination and regards Catholics as having a prima facie duty to be vaccinated, not only for the sake of their own health but also out of solidarity with others, especially the most vulnerable,” the bishops stated.
“We believe that there is a moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others. This is especially important for the discovery of a vaccine against COVID-19.”
The bishops’ September statement qualifies this position by asserting the decision is a matter of “prudent judgement of conscience.”
“Research towards and use of an ethically sourced vaccine is the goal which we desire,” they state.
“If this is not achievable and widely available for all people, the Church recognises that there may be ‘grave reasons’ for using a vaccine” developed from cell lines of “an aborted child in the past,” the bishops say, in reference to Dignitatis personae.
“Whilst many may in good conscience judge that they will accept such a vaccine, some may in good conscience judge that they will not,” stated the document, signed by Bishop Richard Moth, chair of the bishop’s social justice department.
“If the choice is made not to receive this vaccination, then the person must make other provisions to mitigate the risk of harm to the life or health of others and to his or her own life and health,” the bishops add.
Catholics must educate their consciences according to principles they lay out, the bishops state, and they list first the need for a coronavirus vaccine.
“Individuals should welcome the vaccine not only for the sake of their own health but also out of solidarity with others, especially the most vulnerable.”
Other principles they list are the Church’s opposition to abortion, to the use of tissue and cells from aborted babies for research, and its teaching “that there must be no complicity in direct abortion and the risk of scandal should be avoided.”
Arguably, neither CBCEW document gives sufficient emphasis to Catholics’ duty to oppose the use of aborted baby cells in vaccine development.
However, the 2005 PAL and 2008 CDF documents state this clearly, and are also “very, very clear that when there’s a moral alternative, you have to use it,” says Debi Vinnedge of Children of God For Life, a Florida-based pro-life group that “campaigns for ethical vaccines, medicines and consumer products.” Vinnedge said that there are vaccines that are not derived from aborted babies.
Vinnedge dismissed the 2017 PAL statement as “not an official document” but a note issued in response to a measles outbreak in Italy.
Oxford University is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with the German corporation Merck and British company AstraZeneca, which uses a cell line harvested “from a healthy baby girl murdered through abortion in 1972 in the Netherlands,” U.K. Catholic Deacon Nick Donnelly told Church Militant in July.
“Her kidney cells were harvested for medical research and given the dehumanizing label HEK-293. She’d probably be a 40-year-old mother with her own family by now,” he said.
LifeSite’s Paul Smeaton contributed to this report.
Information on countries and corporations developing a COVID-19 vaccine using aborted baby cell lines is available on the Children of God for Life website here.