Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, declined comment when contacted by CNA.
In an earlier interview, on Aug. 2, Meany had told CNA that “it is Catholic doctrine that people’s well-founded conscientious objections are part of their religion … part of our Catholic doctrine is that you should have to follow your conscience. And if your conscience is telling you not to do this, then you’re not doing it not just from your conscience perspective, but also from your religious Catholic belief.”
“People objecting to this [ethically-tainted vaccines] are doing so from a very sound Catholic basis, and so I think they should get the support of the Church for doing so,” Meaney said.
He dicussed Church documents permitting the use of vaccines developed with the use of abortion-derived cell lines when no other options are available.
“To a certain extent, people have taken the statements that have come out … to be kind of an endorsement,” he said. “It’s more like a permission,” he said, “it’s a reluctant permission.”
A conscience exemption should not function like a “‘get out of jail free’ card,” Meaney cautioned, noting the responsibility of Catholics to form their consciences and make well-founded judgements. Those not receiving vaccines should do “everything in their power to make sure that they’re keeping others safe,” he added.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has stated that the use of the vaccines with connections to the questionable cell lines is “morally acceptable,” but that Catholics should seek “ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines” when available.
In a December 2020 note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.”
It said that the morality of vaccination depends on both the duty to pursue the common good and the duty to protect one’s own health, and that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”
“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the congregation wrote.
The matter of conscientious objections to Covid vaccine requirements is quickly emerging as a source of intensifying conflict among Catholic leaders and institutions, particularly so in the United States where pressure is mounting against those who have not been vaccinated.
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In a television interview in January, Pope Francis said, “I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.”
U.S. bishops have issued varied statements on whether there is an obligation to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
One NCBC board member told CNA that Cardinal Cupich’s pressure has created internal tension in the Church, and that some bishops in the US can soon be expected directly to contradict recent statements from the bishops in Colorado and South Dakota supporting religious or conscience exemptions from coronavirus vaccine mandates.
The Archdiocese of New York on July 30 instructed priests not to grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that doing so would contradict the pope.
By issuing a religious exemption to the vaccine, the archdiocese said, a priest would be “acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope and is participating in an act that could have serious consequences to others. Imagine a student receiving a religious exemption, contracting the virus and spreading it throughout the campus. Clearly this would be an embarrassment to the archdiocese.”
The bishops in Colorado in an Aug. 6 letter emphasized the need to respect those with conscientious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines and have provided a template letter for any Catholics with objections to mandatory vaccination. The bishops of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo also welcomed the City of Denver’s vaccination mandate for including a religious exemption.