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NOW bishops ask for ethical vaccines: too little, too late

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 16, 2021

Better late than never? Not in this case.

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The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced a letter-writing campaign, urging Catholics to write to pharmaceutical companies and ask them to produce Covid vaccines that are not tainted by involvement with abortion. One year too late.

This might have been a good idea, twelve months ago. In fact it was just twelve months ago that I made the point: “There is no scientific reason why we can’t have a morally acceptable vaccine. The question is: Will we demand it?”

We didn’t demand it, and now we haven’t got it.

Oh, a few lonely voices joined me in calling for pressure on the pharmaceutical companies back in early 2020, when the rush to develop vaccines was just beginning. But our voices were lost in the clamor for action. If our bishops had launched a letter-writing campaign in April of last year, it might have made a difference. Better still, if the bishops had raised their own voices, they could have energized a potential constituency for an ethically developed vaccine. But our bishops were silent then, when the ethical decisions were being made. Now the vaccines are on the market, billions of dollars have been invested, and the promotional campaign is in full swing. This campaign comes far too late.

So is this letter-writing campaign a waste of time? Actually I’d say it’s worse than that. Because while they were silent about the need for an ethical vaccine last year, when their voices might have been heard, our bishops became quite outspoken in the months that followed, encouraging Catholics to accept the vaccines that have been developed, despite their ethical taint. By downplaying the moral questions about the vaccines’ development, and discouraging boycotts or even public protests, the bishops ensured two outcomes, both of which make this letter-writing campaign a fruitless gesture.

First, the bishops instructed Catholics not to worry about the ethical questions surrounding the vaccines. Even in the proposed letters to the pharmaceutical giants, the USCCB makes a point of thanking the corporations for the vaccines they have produced. So countless thousands of Catholics have taken the shots, believing—as their bishops told them—that they were doing the right thing. A letter-writing campaign could be successful only if it generated a huge response, and it is utterly impractical to suggest that docile Catholics, having happily received the vaccines, will now protest them.

Second, the bishops have shown the pharmaceutical companies that Catholics will accept ethically tainted vaccines—that in fact they will be encouraged to accept them. A year ago, an effective letter-writing campaign could have raised the possibility that concerned Catholics would decline a vaccine developed using fetal tissues—and thus offered the prospect of a substantial market for any manufacturer who developed an ethically pure alternative. No longer. The giant pharmaceutical companies now know that we (at least most of us) will accept whatever they offer. They have no clear incentive to produce the alternatives we might prefer.

Now, several months after the key ethical issues were settled, the bishops’ conference (or to be more precise, the pro-life committee within the bishops’ conference) urges us, ordinary lay Catholics, to call out for moral alternatives. Why didn’t they, our bishops—the acknowledged moral leaders of the Church—issue those calls themselves? Having failed to provide moral leadership commensurate with their authority—having used that authority, instead, to urge acceptance of the tainted vaccines—the bishops now ask the laity to issue a call that they should have issued a year ago.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: nix898049 - Apr. 25, 2021 2:56 PM ET USA

    Given nobody has cared what the bishops have said since 2002 I'm not sure it would have made much difference. This gang took away Holy Water and suspended the Sacraments, for crying out loud. Besides, from what I've been reading ALL our drugs have been produced using cell lines derived from abortion. How do we keep those in production while demanding no new ones be made?

  • Posted by: Mphp - Apr. 22, 2021 9:07 PM ET USA

    April 23 2021 Feast of St George. Dear Mr Lawler, although your points are well taken, I would like to suggest that a change toward the good, should be much welcomed, and Catholics educated to ask for ethical vaccines. It was a great shame that two Popes seemed to be ignoring St Pope JP II's Veritatis Splendor & its condemnation of proportionalism. Please may everyone encourage the Bishops & prolife groups to report regularly on the progress of ethical vaccines. How about prizes for same?

  • Posted by: anne.adamczyk - Apr. 18, 2021 12:34 PM ET USA

    There are organizations, such as the JPII Medical Research Institute, that are developing ethically-produced vaccines, but it takes longer. Probably because they do not rush past safety testing. And by the time they come to market, we (effectively) say to them, "You're too late! You should have used aborted baby cells, and then you would have gotten all our money." Actions speak louder than words. (For myself, I decline for both moral and practical reasons, so I won't be getting any vaccine.)

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Apr. 16, 2021 10:35 PM ET USA

    Right on. This just adds to the long, long list of disappointments in our bishops. No, on second thought, there must be an expectation before a fisappointment and sadly, I have no expectations from this bunch.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 16, 2021 12:21 PM ET USA

    It wasn't as if Pope Francis suggested, recommended, appealed to our reason, or made a good-faith effort to accommodate those who would rather suffer martyrdom than commit a grave sin with assent of the intellect and consent of the will. Instead he intimidated, threatened, appealed to our emotions, and commanded us under penalty of serious sin to docilely accept a purported good that was produced _by way of_ procured abortion. Recent studies shed light on nature's ability to protect from Covid.