Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

A silent scandal: Catholic schools promoting morally unacceptable vaccines

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 24, 2015

In at least two American dioceses, the parents of children attending Catholic schools are being told that they must have their children vaccinated, regardless of their moral qualms about vaccines derived from the cells of aborted children. This is an injustice to parents who are determined to bear witness to their pro-life convictions, and a serious misreading of an important Vatican document.

In Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, a diocesan school informed families:

Diocesan policy has changed for the 2015-2016 school year. Due to the fact that the Catholic Church does not object to any of these required immunizations, religious exemptions will no longer be accepted in lieu of the certificate of immunization.*

That statement is simply wrong. The Catholic Church does object to the required immunizations, insofar as the vaccines are derived from fetal tissue. In a statement released in 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life said that Catholics have “a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.”

It is true that the Pontifical Academy went on to say that parents could be justified in allowing vaccinations “on a temporary basis” if there was no other way to protect their children from serious disease. However, the Vatican document said that parents who chose vaccination would have a moral duty “to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems.”

The 2005 Vatican document concludes that parents may vaccinate their children. Nowhere does it suggest that they must vaccinate their children. Church officials who now invoke the authority of the Vatican to justify compulsory vaccination are ignoring the central thrust of that document.

When parents are forced to inoculate their children with vaccines derived from morally unacceptable sources, the Pontifical Academy argued, the result is “moral coercion of the parents, who are forced to act against their conscience or otherwise to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk.” Now Catholic schools are participating in that “moral coercion.”

”This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible,” the Vatican document concluded. By ordering parents to accept vaccination—and saying nothing about the moral obligation to protest and to press for development of alternative vaccines—diocesan officials are working against the Vatican instructions, encouraging passive acceptance of what should be recognized as unacceptable.

*- Update: After a group of parents brought their concerns to the attention of Bishop Robert Baker, the Birmigham diocese changed its policy. The diocese now allows for a conscientious objection to vaccination. 



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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: debi8964 - Apr. 30, 2015 7:44 PM ET USA

    No one should be forced to use an aborted fetal vaccine in direct violation of their conscience in order to attend a Catholic school. The State allows it - all other private schools allow it - and God bless the Diocese for reviewing this and standing up for what is right! There is NO significant risk in that all unvaccinated children are excluded from school during an outbreak - the good bishop was so right to allow parents to follow moral conscience. God bless the Diocese of Birmingham!

  • Posted by: j.fleming8019 - Apr. 29, 2015 10:01 PM ET USA

    Of course, within this general picture there exist differing degrees of responsibility. Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material”. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available. Moreover, in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.

  • Posted by: j.fleming8019 - Apr. 29, 2015 10:01 PM ET USA

    In my opinion it would have been better to have cited the later document, Dignitatis Personae (2008) issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which was approved by Pope Benedict. At n. 35 the Church says this: "Of course, within this general picture there exist differing degrees of responsibility. Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material”. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine..

  • Posted by: Jason C. - Apr. 27, 2015 12:42 PM ET USA

    debi8964: "what exactly are these dioceses doing to accomplish that?" Seriously. If only there were some, I don't know, national conference of all the bishops in this country! When they met as a body, they might even deliberate over matters of life and death for their flock. Boy, that would be something.

  • Posted by: debi8964 - Apr. 25, 2015 7:48 AM ET USA

    The PAFL document stated "It is right to abstain if it can be done without significant risk". So with everyone else vaccinated, where is the significant risk? The number of children exempting for religious reasons is less than 2% in most states and there has NEVER been an outbreak at any Catholic school due to an unvaccinated child. As Phil rightly acknowledges the PAFL's admonition to eliminate this injustice, what exactly are these dioceses doing to accomplish that?

  • Posted by: paul8309 - Apr. 24, 2015 7:55 PM ET USA

    The Vatican document specifically instructs: "the burden of this important battle cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of the population - especially with regard to pregnant women." Vaccination acts to remove that burden. Failure to vaccinate places that burden exactly where it should not be. Googling the issue shows that at least six archdioceses allow exemptions from (e.g.) the MMR vaccine only for medical reasons.