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Church Teaching Calls for Respect of Both Common Good and Conscience with Vaccine Mandates 

August 17, 2021 / (CNA) - The National Catholic Bioethics Center on Tuesday recalled that its guidance on vaccination against the coronavirus is drawn from the full range of Church teaching on the common good, conscience, and charity.

A bioethics think tank that provides guidance to uphold human dignity health care and medical research, the NCBC is opposed to mandated immunization for COVID-19, while also acknowledging that reception of the coronavirus vaccines is morally permissible.

“In fulfilling its mission, the NCBC draws on the full range of the teachings of the Church, including its social teachings, which provide guidance on appropriate respect for persons while building up the common good,” the center said in an Aug. 17 statement.

The matter of conscientious objection to COVID-19 vaccine requirements is emerging as a source of conflict among Catholic leaders and institutions, particularly so in the United States, where pressure is mounting against those who have not been vaccinated.

The NCBC noted “with great sadness the increasingly heated rhetoric and even violence associated with the vaccine mandate debates,” adding that “Frustration and anger on all sides must be transformed by charity and understanding for all our brothers and sisters.”

The center stated that “The Church encourages people to receive vaccination for COVID-19, even though the currently available vaccines in the U.S. have a remote connection to abortion through the use of certain cell lines.”

It noted that the U.S. bishops have urged the provision of vaccines not connected to abortion, and stated: “Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA of a vaccine that did not rely on abortion-derived cell lines for manufacture and/or testing would remove a major obstacle to COVID-19 vaccination for many.”

The NCBC added that it has pointed out “that the Church permits people to use any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines.”

“Discernment with consciences informed by Church teaching is required, as well as all the elements of free and informed consent needed for any medical intervention,” the center affirmed.

The center said that “It is extremely important to embrace both respect for the common good and conscience as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) did in December 2020.”

In its December 2020 note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” 

It said that the morality of vaccination depends on both the duty to pursue the common good and the duty to protect one’s own health, and that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the congregation wrote.

The NCBC noted that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “balanced teaching is cited in full” in its statement on COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

It added that its guidance highlights the need to consider the common good in choosing whether to be vaccinated.

“The NCBC fully acknowledges the complex and challenging decisions in conscience that institutions -- including Catholic health care organizations -- need to make not only for the sake of the persons they serve but also for the good of their employees. Respecting the conscientious judgments and religious beliefs of these employees is an indispensable dimension of this,” the Aug. 17 statement said.

It noted that the Joint National Hospital Association said last month that “mandatory vaccination policies needed appropriate accommodations for medical or religious reasons.”

Moreover, the NCBC wrote, its vaccine exemption resource “was created to help Catholics express the religious basis for accommodating their judgments of conscience. The Catholic faith provides many resources to inspire people to care for others, to serve the common good, and to make sound ethical decisions about how best to protect their own life and health.”

“The NCBC shall continue to help people to draw upon the deepest resources of the Catholic faith to address the many challenges posed by COVID-19 with integrity and charity,” it concluded.

Photo credit: AstraZeneca