NEW YORK – The Diocese of Madison labeled critics of its decision not to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children as making a “rash judgement,” noting that Bishop Donald Hying has encouraged COVID-19 vaccinations.

The unsigned Nov. 12 statement came after the Wisconsin diocese received backlash over its decision last week to not allow its 102 parishes to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics in their schools and churches.

The announcement was made following federal action last week that makes children ages 5-11 eligible to get vaccinated.

“When there are more than enough facilities to offer vaccinations throughout the diocese, choosing not to host vaccination clinics does not equate to being ‘Anti life,’” the Nov. 12 statement reads. “Rather, it avoids the appearance of unequivocal moral endorsement while also respecting the individuals’ and parents’ ability to make a decision based on their legitimate weighing of the medical and moral concerns involved.”

The “Anti life” portion of the statement is in reference to a Nov. 10 Twitter post from Jesuit Father James Martin, who wrote the phrase above the link to a article on the controversy.

Martin, who has over 303,000 followers on Twitter and is the editor at large of America Magazine – a Jesuit publication – was named in the diocese’s Nov. 12 follow-up statement. It claims his Twitter post “exacerbated” the “distortion” of the diocese’s decision.

Martin declined a Crux request for comment on the Nov. 12 statement.

A Nov. 10 Twitter post from Father James Martin, SJ, that classifies the Diocese of Madison’s decision not to host COVID-19 vaccination sites for children as “Anti life” (Credit: Twitter screenshot).

The Diocese of Madison also used the statement to double down on the reasoning for its decision. In addition to “ample” vaccination sites being available in the 11 counties within the diocese, the statement identified the importance of allowing parents to make their own well-informed decision, and the fact that the issue has become “bitterly divisive” as other reasons for the decree.

“This is not a decision that involves either an absolute moral imperative or an intrinsic evil,” the statement reads. “As such it should be made by individuals and parents with a well-formed conscience as to what is appropriate for their own circumstances, weighing carefully the medical and moral facts and potential risks versus the hoped-for benefits.”

From the outset of the Nov. 12 statement the diocese emphasized that the decision is “not about condemning or discouraging vaccination,” adding that “Bishop Hying has given guidance on the moral dimensions of the vaccine, and he has even encouraged its reception.”

Ever since the COVID-19 vaccines were made available there have been questions around the morality of getting the jab due to their connection to cell lines originating in two abortions performed decades ago.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has encouraged Catholics to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine because an abortion-derived cell line was only in the testing of the product, but not in the production. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested and produced with abortion-derived cell lines, and many bishops have encouraged people to avoid that vaccine if possible, while at the same time saying it is morally licit to receive it.

Pope Francis has long stressed the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccination. The Vatican guidance states that “all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”

Diocese of Madison spokesperson Brent King issued the initial statement that announced the diocese’s decision not to host the COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children. He said at the time he wasn’t aware of diocesan parishes that had hosted a clinic at a school or church.

“Similarly, I don’t have any information as to who conducted our parishes or schools with regard to hosting clinics, only that our guidance has been consistently that of neutrality, as there are sufficient resources throughout the area,” King continued.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg