Fighting a Mandatory COVID-19 ‘Vaccine’

By Jay Richards Published on March 14, 2021

Thoughtful Christians have been debating the morality of vaccines* tainted by abortion for years. The issue has become pressing recently because all of the FDA-authorized treatments for COVID-19 have some connection to cell lines originally derived from an aborted child.

Not everyone has the time and attention to sort through all the moral issues involved, so most of us rely on trusted sources for guidance. Most prolife groups have come down in favor of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Though these companies tested their drugs with embryonic cell lines, they’re less implicated in abortion than some others, such as the treatments from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Catholic University professor Catherine Pakaluk is concerned that there seems to be a “growing consensus among Catholic ethicists that vaccines derived from aborted fetal tissue are not only morally permissible (licit), but also (nearly) morally obligatory for the sake of the common good.” It’s one thing to decide that, given all the circumstances, it might be okay for someone to get a vaccine. It’s quite another to claim that others must do so, if they really care about society and their fellow human beings.

So she decided to do something about it, in the form of a Statement of Conscience, which as of this writing has more than a thousand signatures. John Zmirak reported on this a few days ago here at The Stream.

Since many are unfamiliar with the issues involved, I interviewed Catherine to fill in some background details. Our (slightly edited) interview is below.

(Full disclosure: Catherine and her husband Michael are close friends of mine and colleagues at The Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.) 

(1) Catherine, what is the primary purpose of the statement of conscience? What led you to write it?

The primary purpose of this statement was to take a stand for those who feel in conscience that they should resist the currently available SARS-CoV-2 vaccines because of their connection to “sins which cry to heaven for justice” — particularly abortion and the unjust use of human remains. I am one of those people. But here I wanted to speak for the larger community, even if there aren’t many of us. That is because I saw such objectors described as “ignorant” or “superstitious.” Some said, “Well these people don’t truly understand the science,” or “These people are reading ‘fake news.’” 

That seemed unjust to me. Then, last week a high-profile statement came out signed by friends of mine whom I respect making the case for taking the vaccines. I wanted there to be a reasoned defense beside it in the public square of why it’s reasonable to oppose these vaccines, and to refuse to take them.

Catherine Pakaluk

These authors of the other statement believe that current cell lines are so remote from the original abortions, that to scruple against using them is just as irrational as refusing to walk on Roman roads built by slave labor millennia ago.

Of course, it would be insane to attempt to “witness” against slavery by avoiding such roads. Thus they seem to hold (and seem to teach) that people like us with concerns about the vaccines are also insane. Although they use high-flown language conceding that people may want to witness to life by refusing the vaccines, by their own logic such a stance is not an admirable witness but a delusion. So, I wanted this statement to correct that unjust description of the conscientious objectors.

A secondary concern to me was that the statement put out by the Ethics & Public Policy Center (EPPC), seemed to advance the view that people had a moral responsibility to get vaccinated. As a result, it could be used against people of faith to justify coercion to take abortion-tainted vaccines. The signers of that statement have since said that “one is not morally required” to make such a choice, but they offered no details as to what consequences they see as reasonable for those who refuse a vaccine.

For instance, one of the signatories, Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, has said in print that, while no one should be physically forced, communities should be free to prevent them from “enter[ing] schools, restaurants, malls, airports, and other public spaces.” So, is it their view that without a Covid vaccination we should be placed under house arrest until we relent? I believe the EPPC signatories owe it to us publicly to disavow Fr. Nicanor’s position.

(2) For Catholics, what are the key teachings and documents that provide guidance on the use of vaccines? 

For Catholics the key documents which should be read are the 2008 statement called Dignitas Personae by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which treats the use of biological material of “illicit origin” very carefully. It instructs, “When the illicit action is endorsed by the laws which regulate healthcare and scientific research, it is necessary to distance oneself from the evil aspects of that system in order not to give the impression of a certain toleration or tacit acceptance of actions which are gravely unjust. Any appearance of acceptance would in fact contribute to the growing indifference to, if not the approval of, such actions in certain medical and political circles.” [Emphasis mine.]

Note that the 2008 statement draws from and builds upon a prior 1987 document, Donum Vitae, which is also worth reading in its entirety. That document ends with a very firm exhortation that “conscientious objection” in the face of unjust civil laws and norms “must be supported and recognized.” 

The most directly relevant and arguably the most important, because it was written before the heated debates over COVID and the lockdowns, is the 2005 statement by the Pontifical Academy of Life. It was approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the main doctrinal body in the Catholic Church) under the authority of then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).  This document makes two important claims. First, “there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems.” And second, that use of the vaccines “occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience.”

The most recent Note on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines (2020) applies the teaching of Dignitas Personae to the present dilemma. It concludes that where “ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available” it is morally licit for individuals to receive these vaccines. But, still, “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “must be voluntary.”

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Note that the last two documents are relatively low down on the hierarchy of magisterial authority. They appeal to many underlying fundamental principles. But of themselves, it’s better to count these documents as “guidance” rather than, as some say, “Church teaching.”  The fact that the documents do not entirely agree with one another confirms that estimation.

(3) What’s the difference between use of a vaccine being “licit” and it being mandatory?

If something is licit, that simply means that it’s not always wrong to do.  If something is mandatory, then it’s required.  “Licit” is like this: “You may do this, or you may not. You are permitted to do it.” “Mandatory” is like: “You must do this; you are not permitted to refrain from doing it.”

Now apply these points to the vaccines.  For the vaccines to be licit is for it not to be wrong to have recourse to them — on a temporary basis, under protest, if there is no alternative, and for serious reason.  Obviously it’s best if this kind of judgment is left to the conscience of individuals, precisely because what is at stake is an aspect of “coercion of conscience,” which the CDF referred to.

People should not be led to believe that there is a consensus among pro-life analysts that they are morally obligated to get one of the vaccines, and silly to have moral objections to them.

We want to see people informed of the truth and left free in conscience to refuse the vaccine if they believe that they are called to do that.  They are permitted to do that; they should be left free to do that. People should not be led to believe that there is a consensus among pro-life analysts that they are morally obligated to get one of the vaccines, and silly to have moral objections to them.

(4) Who do you hope will sign the statement?

I hope that hundreds of thousands of people all around the world will sign it, though obviously I’m going to need a better website and server before then! (If anyone has a suggestion please contact us!) But seriously, I would like for people everywhere to sign, in any walk of life, Catholic, Protestant, or whatever. Basically, anyone who thinks people should not be coerced into taking abortion-tainted vaccines. I would also like for people to sign who disagree with our conclusions about the vaccines but who agree with us that there should be protection for those who want to #resistabortionbenefit.


*The treatments currently authorized for creating an immune response to COVID-19 are mRNA treatments. They differ from previous vaccines which have used either live or attenuated pathogens. I’m using “vaccine” here to refer to any drug designed to produce an immune response to a pathogen.


Jay Richards, Ph.D., is the Executive Editor of The Stream, a Research Assistant Professor in the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Follow him on Twitter.

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