Covid-19 vaccines that use the cells of aborted foetuses are “morally acceptable” according to the Vatican’s doctrine office.
A note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rules that the vaccines are “morally licit” because those receiving injections are not directly involved in abortion.
Some bishops and Catholic groups have raised concerns about the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine because it was developed from cell-lines originating from the cells of an aborted foetus in 1983. The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine, meanwhile, used an aborted cell line during the testing phase.
Issued with the approval of Pope Francis, the doctrinal office said it had issued its ruling following the “diverse and sometimes conflicting pronouncements in the mass media by bishops, Catholic associations, and experts” on the morality of the vaccine.
Catholics are forbidden from “co-operation” with abortion but the note states: “All vaccinations recognised as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge 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.”
It adds: “The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent.”
The congregation points out, however, that their ruling “should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted foetuses” while pharmaceutical companies are encouraged “to produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience.”
In August, the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, along with his Anglican and Orthodox counterparts, wrote a letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison raising concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine. Archbishop Fisher, who has a doctorate in bioethics from the University of Oxford, is a member of the Vatican’s doctrine body. Although he voiced his worries about the vaccine, he later clarified that he was not calling for Catholics to boycott it.
In the United States, some bishops have described the AstraZeneca vaccine as “problematic” while Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, in Texas, went further arguing that those “who believe in the sanctity of life” should reject the Moderna vaccine which he said had been “produced immorally.”
In their note, the doctrine office said that getting vaccinated is not “a moral obligation” but that those who refuse vaccinations must take steps to avoid transmitting the virus. Getting a vaccine, the note added, is also a question of promoting the common good.
“In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed,” it explained.
Meanwhile, the Vatican health service has announced it will start to vaccinate residents in the City State and Holy See employees during the first months of 2021.