Profile in Cowardice: How Catholic Leaders Botched the Abortion-Linked COVID Vaccines

From firmly standing against abortion-tainted vaccines, many bishops now favor forcing them on everyone.

By Joshua Charles Published on August 23, 2021

“Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand.” (Ezekiel 34:10)


When I arrived at the White House to work as a writer in 2020, I immediately inquired as to the status of Operation Warp Speed. I was very concerned that many of the vaccines being produced were being developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.

One scholar I worked with provided me a letter written to FDA Commissioner Steven Hahn in April 2020. That letter was signed by several Catholic Bishops — some on behalf of the USCCB. They included:

  • Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann (Chairman, USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities).
  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades (Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine).
  • Bishop John F. Doerfler (Chairman, USCCB Subcommittee on Healthcare Issues). And
  • Archbishop Paul S. Coakley (Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development).

Shall We Save Our Lives Through These Innocents’ Deaths?

 This letter, dated Friday April 17, 2020, raised the issue of vaccines “being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies.” As we now know, the vaccines produced by Operation Warp Speed used these cell lines in their production (Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca) or testing (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) phases, though the letter does not clearly differentiate between the two, referring to both “production” and “development.”

The letter states:

It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: no American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience. [Emphasis added]

The letter then pointed out that completely ethical alternatives were available:

Fortunately, there is no need to use ethically problematic cell lines to produce a COVID vaccine, or any vaccine, as other cell lines or processes that do not involve cells from abortions are available and are regularly being used to produce other vaccines. [Emphasis added]

The letter concluded with a solemn request to the FDA Commissioner:

Commissioner Hahn, we urgently and respectfully implore you to not only ensure that Americans will have access to a COVID vaccine that is free of ethical concerns, but to encourage and incentivize pharmaceutical companies to use only ethical cell lines or processes for producing vaccines. [Emphasis added]

Trump Did Nothing

None of these things were acted on by the administration. And now, in August 2021, many Catholic bishops are claiming the faithful should have no religious exemption from the vaccine. That is, the very thing they were urging the government to ensure never took place when the pandemic began.

Indeed, when the CDF (the Vatican’s doctrinal arm) spoke on the morality of COVID vaccines in December 2020, it explicitly affirmed that receiving such vaccines must be voluntary, as well as the right of Catholics to conscientiously object. After all, no Catholic can ever be required in conscience to comply with an uncertain moral proposition that depends on a host of prudential judgments.

Folding Like a Cheap Tent

So I ask: what changed? The use of these cell lines is still the key moral issue, to say nothing of our total ignorance of the long-term consequences of these vaccines, and a host of other prudential concerns. Despite all these questions, these vaccines are now being mandated left and right. And our bishops — far from defending their flocks — are joining in. They are either imposing mandates on diocesan staff (including clergy), or refusing to allow priests to write religious exemption letters in defense of the rights of conscience they so clearly affirmed last year. This blatantly violates what the Vatican itself has stated.

The evil is further aggravated by the fact that vaccines that don’t utilize these abortion-derived cell lines are in the final phases of development right now.

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Across the country, Catholics are having their jobs and livelihoods threatened because they refuse to take this experimental vaccine about which they harbor the same grave moral doubts articulated by the bishops last year. Pregnant woman who are deeply concerned about the life of their child should they take these vaccines are being hung out to dry. Catholic families and children are being put under the gun, while the Bishops of many dioceses forbid priests to support them by even doing the bare minimum of writing a letter in support of a religious exemption.

Et tu, Your Excellencies?

Spines of Jelly

We live in a day in which many in the hierarchy have justified the most outrageous violations of the moral law and timeless Catholic doctrine in the name of “conscience.” Now, on a question that is deeply dependent on both moral and prudential truths, many in the hierarchy — in direct violation of Catholic teaching and the Vatican itself — are denying Catholics the right of conscience. That’s a right they explicitly affirmed last year, and which they so often affirm for the most brazen heretics. They deny conscience in the name of temporal bodily health, while affirming it to excuse eternal spiritual death. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

We may very well end up in a situation where the conscience rights of Catholics are defended by lawyers and secular civil authorities more than by their own shepherds.

This is a disgrace, a stab in the back of a flock that has more than a few knife wounds already.


Joshua Charles is a former White House speechwriter for Vice President Mike Pence, a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, historian, columnist, writer/ghostwriter, and public speaker. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaTCharles or see

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