The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a note in December 2020 explaining that "the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive," while also urging pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies to "produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated."
The Canadian bishops' vaccine guidance follows a flurry of statements from individual bishops in the United States on the matter, as well as from the U.S. bishops' conference.
In a March 2 statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops echoed the Vatican in stating that it is "morally acceptable" to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but if possible, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion.
"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that 'when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available…it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,'" the bishops wrote.
The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who head the USCCB committees on doctrine and pro-life activities, respectively.
Bishop Rhoades has since clarified that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine "can be used in good moral conscience."
"What's most important is that people get vaccinated," Bishop Rhoades said in a March 4 video message.
"It can be an act of charity that serves the common good. At the same time, as we bishops have already done, it's really important for us to encourage development of vaccines that do not use abortion-derived cell lines. This is very important for the future."
Some individual U.S. bishops have said Catholics ought to accept the first vaccine they are offered, and in contrast, at least one bishop- Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck- has instructed his flock not to accept the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at all.
Eighty-six Catholic women from 25 countries issued a letter March 8 opposing what they called "abortion-tainted" COVID-19 vaccines, and arguing Church statements approving their use rely on "an incomplete assessment of the science of vaccination and immunology."
The women asserted that statements justifying the use of abortion-derived vaccines "ignore the gravity and immediacy of the crimes committed against the unborn" and they could not willingly benefit from the sacrifice of "these aborted babies' bodies" if they were used at any point in the vaccine production process, "no matter how long ago."
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"The evil of using aborted fetal cell lines involves not just the original murder, but the ongoing commercialization of the child's body, as well as the ultimate refusal to bury his desecrated remains," they said.