NEW YORK — With nationwide COVID-19 vaccination efforts underway, one Texas bishop is encouraging parishioners in his diocese to wait for a vaccine with no connection to abortion, telling them to avoid the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines green-lit by the U.S. bishops’ conference last week.
“My basic recommendation to the flock here was to be very cautious about any vaccine that has connection to abortion, whatever that connection is and really to wait for ethically produced vaccines,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler told Crux.
“I didn’t receive the vaccine. But it’s not my role to substitute my conscience for every Catholic. I’m just guiding them to be cautious and look at ethical questions of vaccines produced with a connection to aborted children and really call on these companies, these scientific research entities, to make efforts to at least provide alternatives.”
Other bishops have already made the decision to get the vaccine. Last week, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami was the first U.S. bishop to get vaccinated. Cardinal Blase Cupich and other clergy members from the archdiocese of Chicago were scheduled to get vaccinated on Wednesday, the archdiocese announced Tuesday.
A U.S. bishops’ conference statement last week cited the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as morally acceptable because the connection to abortion is remote, also citing the lack of alternatives available.
Both vaccines used cell lines derived from aborted fetuses during confirmatory testing, but not in design, development or production. Others, like the AstraZeneca vaccine, use cell lines derived from aborted fetuses in all four stages.
The statement also calls on Catholics to avoid any “morally compromised” vaccines if any alternatives become available. Pfizer and Moderna are the only vaccines to receive emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration as of Tuesday.
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith green-lit the use of COVID-19 vaccines in a similar statement Monday. The statement said the responsibility of Catholics to avoid products made with cell lines derived from aborted fetuses “is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent,” such as COVID-19.
“It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized 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 the production of the vaccines derive,” the statement said.
In his conversation with Crux, Strickland said he would’ve liked to see more from both the USCCB and Vatican statements, saying that not taking a stronger stance against the morally compromised vaccines “sends a mixed message.”
“I would’ve hoped for a strong push for, maybe even an organized effort to really call for ethical vaccines. It was mentioned, it was called for, but not as strongly, as clearly as if we really believe abortion is wrong,” he said.
“It’s been a very confusing time for all of us. I would’ve preferred a stronger clearer statement for all of us that these immorally produced vaccines need to stop and we need to work towards that in a more focused way,” the bishop added.
Stacy Trasancos, executive director of the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the diocese of Tyler, connected the lack of alternative vaccines to a lack of protests from Catholics on the matter.
“If we decide we can’t abstain from taking the vaccine, then you can accept the vaccine if that is the only alternative. We’re in a position now that the only alternatives have connection to abortion because there haven’t been big enough protests,” Trasancos told Crux.
Strickland founded St. Philip Institute to provide parishes in the diocese with the materials, expertise and support to carry out the mission of Strickland’s Constitution on Teaching the Catholic Faith, according to its website.
Trasancos said that going forward Catholics “have to find a way to put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to stop using aborted fetal cells in research.”
Strickland said that likely won’t happen until the companies feel it in their pockets.
“I think for these research companies the bottom line is significant. If we’re not affecting their bottom line then we’ve lost any clout that we have. But there are lots of vaccines. Lots of issues for medical science. I think we need to stand for ethical scientific research period. Work towards that kind of change,” Strickland said.
He went on to call the situation with the COVID-19 vaccines a “lost opportunity.”
“But we still have a moral duty to live ethically, continue to voice opposition and continue to look ways we can make change and sometime in the future when the bottom line opportunity arises again we can seize greater vigor to work for the greater good of the human family,” Strickland said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg