Catholic Moral Acceptance of the Covid-19 Vaccine
The video below goes into more detail on why it is both an acceptable moral decision and a responsible decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Any of the ones currently authorized. It addresses the concerns of those who ask whether the use of fetal cell lines derived from aborted fetuses in the past morally compromises the use of the vaccines? The short answer is no, but it is an important concern and we invite you to view the whole video.
Below the video the question of a Catholic “religious exemption” from receiving a mandated vaccine is discussed.
*Catholic Religious Exemption for Covid-19 Vaccine
Some people have asked for a religious exemption to taking the vaccine based on Catholic teaching. They want it for college, others for their place or work or travel which are mandating the vaccine unless exempted for medical or religious reasons. For Catholics, such a religious exemption is not simple. The Church, in its official pastoral guidance, is not opposed to any of the vaccines. [Think of Pope Francis and his strong encouragement, for all who are able, to be vaccinated, and to do so as part of our responsibility for the common good.] It would be more accurate to say that the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination, unless medical reasons or a personal decision of a well-formed conscience leads one to not do so. Notice, that for Catholics in this particular situation, the religious exemption would not be universal but tied to the personal conscience-based decision of an individual.
Given that there is no broad Catholic religious exemption, can a case be made for individuals to opt out based on a personal decision of a well-formed conscience? Yes, there is. Whether that would be sufficient to satisfy the definition of a religious exemption being used by different institutions would be up to the specific institution. In many ways it is analogous to the situation of young Catholic men who did not want to serve in the military when their draft number came due during the Vietnam War era. Today the situation would be a bit different, given the strong condemnation of all wars by Church leadership in the last few decades, but at the time the Catholic Church had a general consensus that there could be something called a “just war” if certain conditions were fulfilled, and most of the Catholic leadership in the United States were strong supporters of the Vietnam War effort as just, especially in its early stages. If a young man asked for a Catholic religious exemption (called “conscientious objection”), the Church could support a limited or what was called a “selective conscientious objection,” if a person had come to a clear belief that this particular war was immoral. But Church leadership, given its understanding of just war theory, usually did not support a general or blanket conscientious objection to all wars. Unfortunately, the U. S. government did not recognize “selective conscientious objection” but only a complete objection to all wars, and so conscientious objector status was rarely given, based on a Catholic-based religious argument.
In an analogous way, what such seekers of a religious exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine are asking for is a “selective conscientious objection” to the particular vaccines currently approved for use. Given the Church’s strong emphasis on the common good and the moral responsibility of all to help promote it, if a vaccine had no moral taint to it, is proven safe and effective, and is approved for regular use, then there would be little ground for a selective conscientious objection to that vaccine, based on Catholic moral principles. But, because all the currently approved Covid-19 vaccines have a remote connection to the use of cells from aborted human fetuses, either in the development and/or the testing of the vaccine, and additionally they are still under emergency authorization, there is perhaps room for a selective conscientious objection to these vaccines. For now, then, there is that small window that might lead some Catholics to conscientiously object to being vaccinated, based on Catholic moral principles.
Note some of the conditions, however, to truly claim a conscientious objection and therefore fall within a Catholic understanding of a religious exemption. It needs to be a decision of a well-formed conscience, not simply one’s personal belief or social/political statement. When people ask me for such a letter, I need to know that they have truly taken time to form their conscience well. I ask whether they have read the Pope’s statements on the importance of the vaccine and the permissibility to be vaccinated. Do they understand the difference between remote material cooperation (which is never morally sinful if one has a good intention) and immediate and/or formal cooperation? (View the “Faith Byte” above.) Have they read the U.S. Bishops’ statement on the moral acceptability of the vaccines? Have they studied the way that fetal cells entered into the process in a specific vaccine? Have they refused other vaccines that have a similar remote relationship to cells form aborted human fetuses? If not, it is likely that one’s opposition to this vaccine is not based on a consistent moral objection. Have they prayed about it, bringing before the Lord both a true desire to support the common good and a desire not to be complicit with anything that is morally compromising? And, if they believe that the Lord is calling them to not be vaccinated, how are they witnessing to the common good in other ways. It is very difficult to claim a conscience-based decision not to be vaccinated and turn around and do and say things that discourage others from being vaccinated or refusing to take measures (like wearing masks) to prevent the spread of the virus. In other words, it takes maturity and prayerful discernment to make a decision of conscience, not just a desire not to be vaccinated.
If such careful formation of conscience has not been done, then the Church cannot support a person’s desire to get a religious exemption based on Catholic teaching. If, however, after such reflection and prayerful discernment, one comes to a deep-seated belief that it is wrong to take the vaccine for oneself, then that would fall within the Catholic Church’s understanding of conscientious objection to this vaccine. Click on the link from the National Catholic Bioethics Center website, which has a suggested letter that might fit one’s decision in conscience in that case.