Bishop Flores affirms COVID vaccines are 'morally permissible'

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville delivers the Thomas Aquinas Day Lecture at TAC Jan 28 2019 Photo courtesy of TAC CNA 1 Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville delivers the St. Thomas Day Lecture at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paul, Calif., Jan. 28, 2019. Photo courtesy of TAC.

Bishop Daniel Flores has released a pastoral letter reaffirming the morality of Catholics receiving the coronavirus vaccines. Flores, the Bishop of Brownsville, Texas, was elected by the other American bishops last month to serve as the next chair of the USSCB's committee on doctrinal affairs. 

In a December 8 letter to his diocese, Flores said that he wants "to assure Catholics that it is morally permissible for us to make use of the various vaccines when they become available," and that claims that the vaccines are "morally tainted" due to an association with abortion is an "inaccurate appraisal." 

Vaccine distribution began in the United States on December 14. 

"It is important to note that neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines, which are now being prepared for distribution, used aborted fetal cells in the development or production of their vaccine," he said. The bishop did note that "early lab testing, though, seems to have involved use of a tainted cell line."

Flores explained that the Church has differentiated between "proximate, mediate and remote participation in an evil," and that the testing of the vaccine on a line derived from fetal cells harvested from an abortion would constitute a "remote association." 

"Given the seriousness of the evil posed by the virus, and the common good protected by use of an effective vaccine, the remote association to tainted cell lines during the testing regime does not constitute a sufficient reason to object to the moral permissibility of the vaccine," said Flores.

Flores also acknowledged that the vaccination for COVID-19 produced by AstraZeneca "involves more direct use of cell lines tainted with immorally derived human tissue in the design, development and production stages." 

"At the level of the recipient of the vaccine, cooperation with original immorally obtained cells is remote," he said, adding that "it is morally permissible to accept vaccination from a morally objectionable cell line when there are no accessible alternatives and when there is a serious risk to public health."

A person with a "viable option" to receive a vaccine other than the AstraZeneca vaccine should do that, said the bishop, but, "it seems unlikely that the general public will have many options available to them." 

Flores wrote that the Catholic Church "rightly and strenuously objects" to the use of cells derived from abortions in any research or pharmaceutical uses, and urged Catholics to "be aware of the danger of moral complacency in our society in the face of such research regimes." 

"We cannot build a healthier world on cells derived from aborted children. No reasonable public policy wants an industry that profits from and creates a demand for aborted fetal cells," he said.

"As Catholics we continue to urge the observance of the highest ethical and moral standards in all fields of medical research." 

The bishop added that believed civil authorities in charge of distributing the vaccines should consider those who are "most vulnerable to the virus," when deciding who should be receiving the vaccine first. 

"We should also find ways, at the appropriate time, to make the vaccines as accessible as possible to the poor, and to the isolated in our communities," he said.  

Flores' letter echoed a release on December 14 by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities. 

In that statement, the bishops acknowledged that there were moral concerns regarding the vaccines, particularly the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca, but said that the vaccines are permissible due to the threat posed to public health.

Flores will assume leadership of the doctrine committee at the Fall 2021 General Assembly of the USCCB.

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