12 August 2020

Vaccines and Abortion (2)

I have to say that the conclusions drawn by Bishop Sherrington seem to me broadly in line with the the principles of Moral Theology in the manuals I have described. Regular readers of this blog will hardly consider me to be a venal patsy of the English Bishops: quite the opposite ... I think they need careful watching. Their behaviour during the years after 1992, when we were trying to secure a Corporate Solution to our problems; and their conduct with regard to the Magisterium of Benedict XVI, do not always inspire confidence. But they are not necessarily, always, ex officio, wrong.

I do not think they are wrong in the guidance they are offering at this particular time and in this particular matter. But I am aware that bishops elsewhere in the world, including some whom I and many readers will respect, have taken a different view.

Accordingly, I think it has to be admitted that we have a situation in which, as an objective historical fact, there exists Doubt.

So does Doubt mean that a real Christian should go for the strictest conclusion, thereby making sure that she is "on the safe side"?

NO! It means that we are in the area once known to moralists as "the Doubtful Conscience". Much discussion used to go on about how we deal with this phenomenon! Since the 1960s, such discussion has unfortunately been replaced by the dodgy actions of shifty practicioners who present us, instead, with systems of morality ("Situation Ethics"?) in which there is no definite Right or Wrong at all. Heretics, the lot of them! I would commend to readers the fine passage in Veritatis Splendor from paragraph 79 onwards.

So we'll forget all those megaheretical Trendies and go back to the dusty old manuals; back to S Alfonso and Davis and Pruemmer and even Bishop Mortimer. 

This, therefore, is the traditional approach the Doubtful Conscience.

We are offered different pastoral systems, with exciting names like Rigorism, Tutiorism, Probabiliorism, Aequiprobabilism, Probabilism, and Laxism. Some of these have been condemned by the Magisterium, some not. A Christian, and his Confessor, has the liberty to adopt any of these systems ... except the condemned ones! To keep this narrative within reasonable lengths, I will deal only with Probabilism.

For the probabilist, if a Christian is facing a choice between two (or more!) moral choices, and each of them seems really to have a very great deal to be said for it, then each of the contemplated choices is termed 'Probable'. And, in this situation, she is free to opt for either. She may think: "Well, A has a lot to be said for it ... has a real chance of being right ... but I think, on balance, B has its nose just across the line", but she may still choose and do A. Lucky girl, she is entitled to bet on horses which get a place, not merely upon winners!

That pre-Conciliar Moral Theology had a flexibility and was genuinely pastoral. No rigidity there! What it means for the the current matter under review is that you don't have to go for the tougher choice, 'being on the safe side', even if you feel that the arguments that way are a bit stronger. You are at liberty to go for the 'easier' option as long as it is a real option with four legs and is still in it with a chance as the horses enter the final furlong.

I sometimes feel that in the current ecclesial situation, which catastrophically includes a pope who refuses to teach clearly and faithfully, there is the following very dangerous risk: the danger that 'Traditionalist' Christians, being determined not to go down the path of the crooks and false guides who proliferated after the Council, will instead opt for "always being on the safe side" ... i.e. the Rigorist option.

But Rigorism was condemned by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690! It's not, therefore, available to a good Catholic who tries to live according to the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church.

So, in the question "Can I use a vaccine derived from genetic material taken from murdered foetuses?", even if the 'tougher' solution, "No", seems to you to have the better argument, you may still go for the 'easier' option put before you by Bishop Sherrington in the name of the English bishops. As long as you conscientiously believe that it does have some sort of decent chance of being right.

Being a Traditionalist means taking seriously what the 'Democracy of the Past' offers you, even when it is currently unfashionable. Being a Traditionalist does not mean standing fearfully with your back to the wall, terrified of getting something wrong. God is merciful and knows you better even than you know yourself. We are to use His grace, trustingly, and then leave the issue to Him.

And I do not believe that confessors, and guides of souls, have any right to try to impose upon Christifideles laici any tougher course of action.


Unknown said...

What difference does it make that the vaccine cell line is from the body part of a baby aborted thirty or so years ago? Babies are still being aborted and their body parts are still being used in medical research. Perhaps we could make a more effective vaccine using the cells of a baby aborted yesterday by a mother who had recovered from covid-19? Does thirty years distance make taking the older vaccine less problematic morally?

I do not care what a committee of bishops conclude about this matter, have any of them rebuked Pope Francis regarding the Pachamama idolatry in the Vatican? They can take the vaccine themselves if they are more afraid of dying than doing the right thing. Five hundred years ago only one of the bishops of this land choose to risk certain death by resisting Henry VIII. The bishops were not heroic then and they are not now either.

ArthurH said...

I fully understand all the arguments allowing this to be seen as "doubtful." I just do not agree with them.

If the cell line was indeed 50 years old (I doubt that for all cases) how would that be any less immoral than if it were obtained last week?

Does a good end justify an evil means at any time? Easy to see how the long time enters into the equation here, if it does so most conveniently for the end sought.

uncle remus said...

Father, with respect, Chesterton's phrase is "Democracy of the Dead". From Orthodoxy:
"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is
the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."
Thanks to you for this helpful post.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I had hoped that comments might have shown signs of readers having accessed and considered some of the resources I indicated. I'm afraid I still think that it is the duty of a responsible Catholic to consult the great Tradition of Moral Theology going back to, and beyond, S Alfonso.

A slave to Jesus said...


I don't think the truth is entirely present in those resources.

The medical community is divided about these newer vaccines.

We are not talking about polio here. The death rate is inconsistently reported and varies widely depending on region.

Fr. Butler said...

This webinar from the Diocese of Tylor may be helpful: https://youtu.be/dOU3I7ybJWE

Anonymous said...

mike hurcum writes,
My Doctor explained to me that the worries of vaccination differs very widely from the years of mine and his youth. In our times we were given them in groups. I mind the time at the advent of my national service when we received them all at once left and right upper arms and one pace forward left and right forearms. It was debilitating for young man of 18 years. Over 75% of us were made invalids. My doc claimed today due to the greediness of big pharma, babies are given the many shots combined in one dose. THEY GET SICK and very grumpy long before they achieve old age. Very sick my doc said. If when I was 18 and the vaccinations gave us a very high fever, unbelievable muscle and head aches and large scabs., how can infants much younger communicate the aches and pains they receive and the instincts of young mothers knowing something is wrong but do not comprehend the wrongness are in horrors not understandable to mother and child?

Neill said...

It would be helpful if someone could indicate exactly which vaccines are derived from aborted foetal tissue. It is not easy to find out. There are so many potential Covid vaccines in process of development and they do not all use the same strategies. Which ones are problematic? Surely we have a right to know?

Pax--Tecum said...

Even as late as 1968, in a book called "Breviarium religionis christianae pro schools religionis omnibusque religionis cultoribus" written by cardinal Morano, the traditional teaching is followed (p. 11 and 12):

"Ignorantia legis christianae habetur in iis qui de lege christiana vel de obligatione servandi eam non sunt edocti. Error habetur in iis qui, edocti quidem de lege christiana ac de obligatione servandi eam, ipsam falso interpretantur.
Ignorantia et error dicuntur sinceri, si fideles in iis versantur absque propria malattia vel culpa.
Ignorantia sincera et error sincerus violationem legis christianae a peccato excusant.
Quilibet fidelis in deliberando de aliqua accione omittenda vel ponenda secum ipse sincere considerat utrum omissio illa vel actio sit conformis vel contraria legi christianae, et iuxta certitudinem ita acquisitam procedit ad operandum. Hoc iudicium de actione aliqua omittenda vel ponenda vocatur iudicium conscientiae, et illa animi certitudo quam quis ex eo iudicio sibi efformaverit vocatur conscientia certa.
Iudicium conscientiae est proxima regula moralitatis actionis. Ideo actio quae fit ob sincerum iudicium conscientiae certae habenda est pro vetita vel iussa, pro illicita vel licita, prout ipsi conscientiae certae apparuerit. Scilicet in discrepantia inter conscientiam certam et doctrinam veram agens sequi debet conscientiam certam prae doctrina vera."

So that means that if there is a doubt, one is obliged to follow his conscience, even if this is contrary to the moral doctrine of the Church.

* I hope the autocorrect function (I don't know how to turn it off) hasn't changed the quote from cardinal Morano's book. I had to reverse a lot of mistakes it added to the text because it doesn't know Latin.

Ben said...

Also relevant here (possibly referenced in the materials already alluded to?) is the 2008 CDF document 'Dignitas Personae' - formally approved by Benedict XVI and therefore magisterial, safe and trustworthy - specifically, sections 34-35, on 'The use of human “biological material” of illicit origin'.


Sections 34-35 operate within the 'shades of grey' realm of material cooperation that Fr Hunwicke speaks about. It doesn't let researchers off the hook, but gives some leeway to recipients of vaccines:

'Within this general picture there exist differing degrees of responsibility. Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material”. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available. Moreover, in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.'

Ben said...

In reference to the first two comments of Unknown and ArthurH, about 'doing the right thing' even if it means dying as a result, and about not using an evil means for a good end - these universally valid principles are certainly relevant and decisive when we're talking about an action that moral reflection has already recognised as morally evil. Similarly, formal cooperation in another's sin (which by definition always involves participation in the other's evil intention) can never be justified.

However, these principles do not always find application in a question of material cooperation, since it has not yet been established at the initial stage of a moral analysis that the particular material cooperation in another's evil action that we're talking about, is itself morally evil and forbidden.

That is the point still in question – and so it is question-begging, and a logically vicious circle, to assume from the start that this material cooperation is morally evil and therefore never to be done even for a good purpose (such as to save one’s life).

(It is impossible to live in this world and avoid all material cooperation. And God himself, for greater goods known to himself, materially cooperates in all the sin in the world, since he maintains the sinner in existence even while the sin is being committed.)

Sometimes the further analysis and reflection will discover and discern that the material cooperation in question is indeed unjustified; but other times it will show that it is permissible, or even in some cases obligatory (for example, where great overall harm would result from refraining from the material cooperation).

And where our due moral reflection leaves us in a state of unresolved reasonable doubt, then as Father says, ‘reflex principles’ such as those of probabilism come into play.

A slave to Jesus said...

In all fairness.

This is not just a 'traditionalist' concern.

The charismatic movement has also mentioned that as a concern. They even go further as saying , through some of their 'seers' that a fetal stem cell vaccine combined with a tracking technology that is required to 'buy and sell' is a 'type' of mark of the Beast.

A slave to Jesus said...

Thanks Ben,

Here is the key, in a magisterial document,

"while keeping in mind that everyone has the DUTY to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available."

Are we actually doing our DUTY as Catholics in asking for the other options that are available?

A slave to Jesus said...

My take from the documents is that you may not be cooperating in the evil by taking the vaccine.

But you ARE cooperating in the evil by not performing your DUTY in asking your politicians for the other options, that don't use a dead child's fibroblasts, that are available.

Even in COVID, non W-38 growth media is being used to make vaccines.

Unknown said...

Ben (I'm the Unknown in the first comment) I comprehend your point. Nevertheless I personally do not want to materially cooperate in this particular evil action in any degree whatsoever because I find it repugnant and I do not want to take into my body a cell line from the murdered baby. I would not take this vaccine if it were offered to me in a sugar lump. If other people want to sugar coat the vaccine before they take it then they can do so. I will not be joining them for the fellowship.

Ben said...

Unknown, I have the same gut reaction as you to the thought of this - and yet, I don't think our gut reaction should be morally decisive.

True, our emotional reactions to things aren't morally irrelevant. 'By his emotions man intuits the good and suspects evil.' (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1771; and C.S. Lewis says plenty about this in 'The Abolition of Man' and 'That Hideous Strength'.) And yet, neither are emotions the last word - they must still be assessed in the higher light of faith and/or reason. (Catechism, 1767-70)

Whenever we have material cooperation (justified or not), some level of negative emotional reaction to the evil with which we're cooperating is only to be expected, if we're in good moral health. And since emotions aren't attuned to fine rational distinctions, they will spill over from our reaction to the evil itself, into our reaction to (even justified) material cooperation. (So if the material cooperation we're talking about in some instance is judged not only permissible but morally obligatory, then we need the strength of mind and will to perform the action even in the face of our negative emotion.)

All that is 'general principles' - saying nothing about the specific case of a COVID vaccine. I'm certainly not saying that you or anyone else must take the vaccine; and I have no idea at this point what I will judge to be the right course for myself, if and when the time comes - at least until I know more of the specifics.

But I think Fr Hunwicke is aiming to show there is wriggle room for faithful Catholics who otherwise might feel backed into a corner; and the aim of my contribution was to defuse any false absolutes that might incorrectly remove that wriggle room.

It's easy enough, in a way, to say to ourselves, 'I'm willing to die of COVID-19 rather than take the vaccine' - death being a reasonably unlikely outcome. But a few weeks ago I visited someone in a nursing home, and was only allowed to enter because I had certification of having had the flu shot. What then of an aged care worker who is forbidden to work, or a person forbidden to visit a parent in a nursing home, or a priest forbidden to enter a nursing home to give the last sacraments, unless they have had the speculated COVID vaccine? Such a state of affairs is quite plausible, and might last for some years.

Or, some people will have genuine concerns of infecting others. Will we happily go to Mass unvaccinated, maybe putting elderly fellow-parishioners at risk; or will we be willing to say, 'As an unvaccinated person, I am willing to refrain from attending Mass, and am justified in so refraining, until the risk of infecting others is substantially over'?

I wouldn't be suggesting disdainfully to Catholics who decide to receive the vaccine in such circumstances that they are 'sugar-coating' something that they would name and reject as evil if they were honest enough.

Having said all that, my hope is also (as A slave to Jesus highlights) that Catholics will learn of, and follow, the moral requirement that if they do decide to receive a morally-tainted vaccine, they must express to the authorities their disagreement with the situation.

Anita Moore said...

Thank you Father. About 8 or 10 years ago, I was exposed to the chickenpox virus. I never had chickenpox as a kid, and in college I knew a guy who had gone deaf as the result of contracting chickenpox in his 20s, so I was afraid to come down with it as an adult. As soon as I was made aware I had been exposed, I took the blood test to find out whether I had the chickenpox antibody. But the incubation period for the virus was running out, and so with no results from my blood test, I went ahead and started the two-shot series for the vaccine. I was criticized for allegedly accepting a vaccine derived from aborted fetal cells. I didn’t know there were aborted fetal cells involved in the chickenpox vaccine, and I am still not certain about it, so I didn’t do anything wrong regardless. Nonetheless, I am reassured by your post. (In the end, it turned out I have the antibody, so I did not need to continue the vaccine series.)

The other concern about a vaccine for coronavirus is the prudence of taking a vaccine sponsored by people like Bill Gates, who thinks there are too many people in the world (and also can’t keep viruses out of his own software).

Banshee said...

My understanding was that, in the US, most babies and children got their vaccines at widely separated times, just as most puppies and kittens do. The only combined vaccines are the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and DTAP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, And Pertussis).

However, there's some weird thing going now, where the CDC wants kids to get a bunch of different vaccines at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months, and then a bunch more between six months and the age of 3, rather than separating them into more appointments, or having fewer vaccinations.

Some of them look rather unnecessary, unless you are living in dangerous parts of the country or your parents are drug users.

I'd never be an anti-vaxxer, but this amount of junk being pumped into babies seems like government overreach coupled with dubious medical fads; and I bet most pediatricians ignore this junk or do it differently.

Marc in Eugene said...

The English vaccine is different than the one developed in Australia, I guess: I saw earlier that Archbishop Fisher has cautioned the faithful against using the Australian one (if indeed there is but one; I don't follow closely). Perfectly reasonable that there are different responses to differently developed vaccines: this is an instance when it would be wonderful if we lived in a world where I felt I could trust the regional or national bishops' conferences.

Unknown said...

Fr Hunwicke,
You hit the nail on the head;” I sometimes feel that in the current ecclesial situation, which catastrophically includes a pope who refuses to teach clearly and faithfully,”. I teach high school moral theology. I teach that we look to the Magisterial authority of the Church (protected by and guided by The Holy Spirit) when there is such disagreement on such grave matters. We have a mechanism when used properly to guide us. I retired after 24 ½ years in the U.S. Navy. I entered as a recruit and retired as an officer. I know these decisions are stressful and difficult (I am thankful I do not need to make them). However, they come with the job. (And if I have not mentioned the secret weapon; Protected by and guided by The Holy Spirit) Clarity from the Vatican would go a long way to alleviate these anxieties.