Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Ethics and Public Policy Center: COVID vaccination not sinful

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 09, 2021

On March 5th, the Ethics and Public Policy Center issued a statement by pro-life Catholic scholars to clarify the The Moral Acceptability of Receiving COVID-19 Vaccines. The strength of this statement lies in its clear presentation of the exact nature and extent of the (very remote) connection of the vaccines with abortion. The weakness is that the statement chooses not to address the moral obligation, if one chooses to be vaccinated, of making clear one’s opposition to the use of immorally-derived cell lines.

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I want to emphasize that the EPPC statement does not contradict anything taught on this matter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, through that Congregation, authorized by the Pope. The purpose of the EPPC statement is to emphasize how very remote is the material cooperation with evil in the decision to accept one of these vaccines. For those who are troubled about this because of potential guilt, it is valuable reading. At the same time, the EPPC’s statement does not have exactly the same scope as the documents of the Ordinary Magisterium on this question.

Two-and-a-half statements of the Ordinary Magisterium

There have been three official statements from the Vatican on this question, two from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as authorized and approved by two different popes, and one by the Pontifical Academy for Life as approved by the CDF. (This is why I say two-and-half statements by the Ordinary Magisterium, as the binding character of the PAL statement is not clear to me.)

First, in 2005 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by Cardinal William Levada under the very new Pope Benedict XVI, requested and subsequently approved a statement on this problem by the Pontifical Academy for Life. This statement emphasized that the use of such vaccines was ordinarily justified for good reasons because it involves only remote material cooperation with evil, or even, and perhaps more precisely, remote passive material cooperation with evil.

This requires a brief explanation. If a person were to choose such a vaccine because he approved of abortion, but without any participation in the abortion(s) in question, this would be remote formal cooperation with evil, which is always sinful. But remote material cooperation with evil does not involve personal guilt. Indeed, it is absolutely unavoidable to avoid benefitting in our daily lives from distant immoral practices in which we are not directly involved and of which we do not approve. It is important to recognize, then, that remote material cooperation with evil carries no personal guilt.

In addition, the 2005 PAL statement emphasized a moral obligation to protest the evil of abortion and press for vaccines that are untainted by the use of cell lines derived from one or more abortions.

Second, both judgments were reaffirmed in the official statement, this time directly from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the more complete Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.

Third, we have the clarification issued by the CDF last December with the approval of Pope Francis, On the Morality of Using Some Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines. This last document is very brief, and it is easy to see which points it clarifies. Among other things, it reaffirms the judgment that the use of such vaccines for good reasons, absent approval of abortion, is remote “passive material cooperation” with evil. Let me emphasize that this means it does not incur any guilt for sin. While emphasizing that the use of the vaccines must not be an indication of the approval of abortion or of subsequent disrespect for a dead human body, this clarification takes for granted the text of Dignitas Personae, with further comments only when clarification seems needed. Hence, the requirement of making one’s moral opposition known is not repeated.

The question of indicating opposition

It is an interesting question whether this requirement is an absolute moral judgment or a pastoral moral judgment based on the particular circumstances surrounding the use of these vaccines. After all, we are not obliged to protest when engaging in other instances of remote passive material cooperation with evil (such as shopping at a pharmacy that provides contraceptives or even deliberate abortifacients). I take it to be a pastoral moral judgment that, in view of the widespread moral controversy over the development of the vaccines, along with the tremendous importance of the entire vaccine saga, we are being told by the CDF that it is not right for anyone who chooses to use the vaccine to refrain from making known in some way a principled opposition to the illicit acquisition of the fetal cell lines used in producing and/or testing the vaccine.

In any case, it is noteworthy that the new statement from the Ethics and Public Policy Center (an obviously non-magisterial statement, despite the very high quotient of orthodox credibility enjoyed by the framers) simply does not concern itself with this last issue at all. But, it is also important to note, neither does it oppose the moral obligation to protest the origins of the vaccines. Its purpose is clearly to allay the moral fears of those considering the use of the vaccine by emphasizing how very remote the material cooperation with evil is.

For this reason, the EPPC statement is completely consonant with the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium on this subject. The only weakness, if it is to be considered a weakness in its particular context, is that it does not touch at all on the question of the moral obligation (perhaps pastorally conditioned by the particular circumstances) to object to the use of illicitly-derived cell lines in the production and/or testing of the vaccines.

Conclusion

I warned early on that this obligation to object could well be trivialized. Clearly, this is a built-in consequence of accepting the use of the vaccine, and it would be very hard to avoid. But precisely for this reason, I was sorry that the EPPC statement did not discuss what we might call, at the least, the conditional responsibility to object to the continued use of illicitly-derived cell lines, with the same care it gave to the remoteness of the material cooperation. But the remoteness constitutes the sole purpose of its very clear presentation—a point which is important enough to be stressed for the benefit of all those who are leery of the connections, under the pressure to be vaccinated. It is also worth noting that the latest CDF statement makes very clear that vaccination must not be compulsory, but must remain a free decision. It is implicit in the use of these vaccines that the objection is not, in effect, considered a deal-breaker; and it is in fact true that it is not a deal-breaker. Yet surely the somewhat queasy feeling a good Catholic must inevitably feel in contemplating the entire chain of events up to and including his or her own decision as to whether or not to be vaccinated—surely that feeling, and the attendant moral impetus, ought not to be completely ignored.

As the most recent clarification from the CDF stated, “the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses.” But this cuts both ways: It should not imply endorsement of the evil portions of the chain of development; and so each of us has an obligation, amid all the confusion, to make it clear in some way that, speaking for ourselves, it does not imply any such endorsement.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: john.aerts6220 - Mar. 11, 2021 9:31 AM ET USA

    It is amazing how far afield then that Bishop Strickland and Stacy Trasancos are, and others, on what really happens in getting these vaccines and how remote or not they really are. Making a good incomplete presentation of moral issues without real science is not real morality, I think they might indicate??? Also a priest made this presentation of how it is a sin: https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/on-abortion-tainted-vaccines - could you do a article to clarify this? Blessings

  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - Mar. 10, 2021 7:37 PM ET USA

    So—pharmaceutical companies have been testing medicines on cells derived from aborted babies for years—presumably not just the current gene-affecting “vaccine”. When do we lift the opprobrium from the epithet “Nazi”? Also, given the possibility of unintended consequences, I’m surprised that there isn’t more uproar about giving it to people who might still bear, or sire, children.