12 August 2021, The Tablet

Diocese launches probe into anti-vax claims

Diocese launches probe into anti-vax claims

Concerns are growing about extremists attempting to hijack Covid vaccines into US-style culture wars.

The Diocese of Portsmouth has launched an investigation into anti-vaccination material posted by a priest of St Mary’s Church, Gosport, after The Tablet disclosed that parishioners had been warned that Covid jabs are “bio-terrorism”, writes Catherine Pepinster.

Last week, The Tablet revealed that Fr George Roth had posted denunciations of Covid vaccines on St Mary’s website and had also emailed parishioners warnings, claiming that the vaccines could put lives in danger.

Fr Roth, a member of a Franciscan order that runs St Mary’s, told parishioners that those “pushing vaccinations” could be conspiring with “evil men who wish to depopulate our world” – a possible reference to a fear that foetal material derived from abortions is used in vaccines.

Now the Diocese of Portsmouth, which includes Gosport, has stepped into the controversy.

In a statement, it said: “The Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth is very disappointed that one of the Family of Mary Immaculate and St Francis in Gosport has publicly expressed a personal view about the Covid vaccination programme that is contrary to the official position of the Catholic Church and the diocese. The matter is being taken very seriously and an investigation is in progress.”

Last week, St Mary’s parish priest, Fr Pio Idowu, said he did not want the parish linked to Fr Roth’s claims and urged parishioners to read the Vatican document on vaccination morality.

The Diocese of Portsmouth’s statement also highlighted the Vatican’s position that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to receive the Covid vaccination and it is part of a duty to pursue the common good.

Anti-vaccination material posted by Fr Roth on St Mary’s website from LifeSiteNews and former doctor Vernon Coleman has now been removed.

Last week the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also expressed concern about the material.

The controversy comes as concerns grow about Catholic extremists co-opting US-style culture wars, both in the US and elsewhere including in the UK, to argue against the Covid-19 vaccine.

Writing in the latest edition of America, the Jesuit review, Fr Sam Sawyer SJ calls for attention to the common good as a “core principle of the Catholic moral tradition” and warns against Catholics who are attempting to hijack Covid vaccines into the culture wars. He writes: “Let me suggest a rule of thumb for reading future news about this topic: If you can’t find the phrase “common good” anywhere in a discussion of Catholicism and the morality of vaccination, then you are not getting the fullness of the Catholic tradition – and someone may be trying to draft you into the culture war instead.”

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