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Why I won’t take a job at the Vatican

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 19, 2021

If the Vatican offers me a job, I’m not going to take it.

To be honest, no one in Rome has been clamoring for my services. And I don’t think I’d be terribly comfortable around the Vatican these days anyway. But the die was cast when I saw that the Vatican is requiring all employees to take a Covid vaccine. Employees who refuse the vaccine could lose their jobs, the Vatican statement warned. Well, since I’m going to refuse the vaccine, let’s all save ourselves some time and trouble.

Today the Vatican issued a new statement, to “clarify” the earlier decree. No one will be fired for declining the vaccine, the update assured us; no one would be punished for conscientious objection. But for those interacting with the public, “alternative work solutions” would be found. In other words you would be removed from your job. Given new responsibilities, perhaps, raking leaves in some isolated corner of the Vatican Gardens. The “clarification” fails to clarify, but if I read it aright, while a recalcitrant employee would not be fired, he would lose his job.

The original Vatican statement said that vaccination would be mandatory (save for those with health exemptions) because it is “the responsible choice.” I disagree. If others choose to take the vaccine, I do not object. If doctors recommend it, I respect their advice. But the Vatican city-state does not (or at least should not) dispense medical recommendations. And I see many reasons why a Vatican employee might decline the injection.

  • We don’t know how well the vaccines work. None of the vaccines guarantee immunity against Covid. Some tests have indicated that the odds of testing positive for Covid plummet among those who take the vaccine. But those odds never reach zero; some people who take the vaccine are later infected.
  • We don’t know how long immunity will last. Insofar as the vaccines protect against infection, that protection may wear off—or may not work for a new variant of the coronavirus. Flu vaccines provide only limited protection; these vaccines very likely have the same limitations.
  • We don’t know whether someone who is immunized can still pass along the virus. Even if you are safe from infection, you may still convey it. So if your reason for vaccination is to keep others safe, you may not achieve that goal.
  • Many people experience side effects after vaccination, and sometimes those side effects are serious—even fatal. True, only a tiny minority of cases involve such serious side effects. But then, only a small minority of Covid cases require hospitalization. (Yes, I acknowledge that the rate of serious disease from Covid far outstrips the rate of serious side effects. But no one is deliberately injecting himself with the coronavirus.)
  • The long-term effects of the vaccines are unknown. These vaccines have been rushed to market with emergency approval, without the years of study that are ordinarily required. Will there be any adverse consequences, years down the road? We are in uncharted waters.
  • The vaccines were developed from, and/or tested on, tissues derived from the cells of aborted babies. Catholic moralists have wrestled with the question of whether, since the abortions occurred long ago, accepting the vaccines is “remote material cooperation” that could be justified in an urgent case—which the Covid epidemic is presumed to be. The Vatican has concluded that vaccination is morally acceptable, in fact commendable; the US bishops’ conference has reached the same decision. But as the head of the US bishops’ pro-life committee has observed, Catholics are not morally obligated to accept the vaccine. Some people may choose to make a moral statement by refusing the vaccine, even though they might be able to justify taking it. I am one of those people.
  • The rush to vaccinate is driven by an inordinate fear of disease. Legitimate public-health precautions are certainly justified during an epidemic. But panic is unworthy of mature Christians. During troubled times the Catholic Church should be a beacon of hope, helping nervous people to keep their fears in perspective. Our faith does not protect us against Covid infection. But if the problem is not just Covid infection but the more insidious Covid-fueled desperation, then—as I argue in my forthcoming book, Contagious Faith—faith is a stronger antidote than any vaccine.

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: Montserrat - Feb. 22, 2021 2:01 PM ET USA

    The response to this article among clear-thinking Vatican employees would probably sound something like this: Bravo! Molto Bene, Signore Lawlor. Bravo! Bravo!

  • Posted by: Alcuin - Feb. 22, 2021 1:44 PM ET USA

    Speaking as a PhD (not MD) biomedical researcher and a traditionalist Catholic I would like to share the advice that I gave my mother: unless you know that you will have a bad reaction to this vaccine (such as an allergy, etc), you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. It is true that there have been no long-term test for side effects, but there's no good reason to believe that there will be. My mother followed my advice, and more than a week later she is healthy as normal.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Feb. 22, 2021 2:49 AM ET USA

    Regarding the vaccine, no vaccine is 100% effective, and the 95% effectiveness of the two least morally tainted vaccines is the best of any vaccine in history. The observed death rate of the vaccine is about 1 in 1 million doses, far lower than the 40k per million of COVID or even the 300 per million of people under 60. Vaccines have all but eliminated polio which caused paralysis, rubella which caused serious birth defects, smallpox which killed many, and much more. They are a great good.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Feb. 22, 2021 1:48 AM ET USA

    Well, you could pretty much say this about all vaccines.

  • Posted by: mooreshi7489 - Feb. 21, 2021 4:55 PM ET USA

    “I am one of those people” also. Thank you for speaking for me.

  • Posted by: philtech2465 - Feb. 21, 2021 1:33 PM ET USA

    I understand your moral reservations. That's a personal decision. But I don't share your concerns about the vaccines safety or its efficacy. In particular, for "experts" to caution against the vaccine's ability to prevent spread (in the absence of proof it does not) strikes me as way overcautious. (If that were true, then what good does the vaccine do in the first place?) But most likely, getting vaccinated does far more good than harm. I want the vaccine as soon as I'm eligible.

  • Posted by: JimKcda - Feb. 20, 2021 3:52 PM ET USA

    As I almost always do, I once again completely agree with you Phil! Anyway, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, I suppose I could die! OK. I’m old and will die sometime soon anyway. But when I get to the Pearly Gates and ask St. Peter to let me in, I don’t want to hear the cries of aborted souls loudly shouting at him to deny my entry! As Abby Johnson recently said, “You are either for abortion or against it. Make up your mind!” (Or something like that.). Thanks for the article.

  • Posted by: jonesd1936 - Feb. 20, 2021 11:53 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Mr. Lawler. You have given sharp focus to the position I will take when I visit the doctor.