Rome conference: Health of the sick and salvation of souls – Church and society in this dark hour of history TEXTS & VIDEOS NOW AVAILABLE!

On 23 October, Voice of the Family held an international conference in Rome on the theme Health of the sick and salvation of souls – Church and society in this dark hour of history. The conference was a great success and a long awaited opportunity to gather again in person after many months.


We were honoured that His Eminence Willem Cardinal Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht, gave the keynote address, looking in depth into the crucial moral, social and scientific questions at the root of the current controversies surrounding the pandemic. His Eminence’s nuanced analysis on the ethical questions concerning Covid-19 vaccines was of particular importance because of his standing as a pastor, a medic and a bioethicist. His Eminence explained the prevailing dispute over the liceity of the Covid-19 vaccines which are produced or tested with fetal cell lines with the lack of consistent moral formation of Catholics rather than insensitivity to the evil of abortion. “It is true,” His Eminence said, “that faithful Catholics recognize the Church’s teaching on absolute norms, in this case, the norm concerning the absolute prohibition of procured abortion, but often they do not know about the casuistry of classical moral theology.” He went on to explain how from the ‘50s and the early ‘60s classical moral theology was often replaced with new moral-theological theories, which suggested that no mortal sin or intrinsic evil exists on the level of the concrete moral act. These theories, His Eminence explained, initially served to justify the use of contraception. However, the spreading and promotion of these ideas, also led to the eclipse of the principles which classical moral theology used in order to apply moral absolutes in difficult cases. Consequently, these principles, largely developed by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori in the 18th century, became superfluous; they were often no longer taught and fell into oblivion. In his presentation, Cardinal Eijk demonstrated in detail how principles of classical moral theology should be applied to respond to the current pandemic and, in particular, to assess the liceity of receiving the Covid-19 vaccines on the basis that they have been developed or tested on fetal cell lines. 

His Eminence’s systematic analysis of the various aspects of discernment in the current pandemic concluded that recourse to the available Covid-19 vaccines is a proportionate means of protecting one’s personal life and health. While it could be argued, based on the information and official data available concerning the virus as well as the vaccines, that being vaccinated against Covid-19 is a moral obligation, this would not mean that it is also a juridical obligation, he emphasised. The compulsory administration of vaccines is not ethically justified. The decision to be vaccinated must be taken voluntarily by the person receiving the vaccine.

Prof. Roberto de Mattei, President of the Lepanto Foundation and renowned Church historian, in his turn, gave a compelling overview of the Church and epidemics in history. His historical review emphasised that the Catholic Church has the supernatural mission of the salvation of souls, but also cares for the body because of the inseparable bond that exists between soul and body in the human person. The physical evils that afflict the human body can be individual, but also collective, such as pandemics, a social scourge that the Church has always considered a consequence of sin, in the same way as wars, famines, and great natural disasters. The reaction to these evils, which accompany the history of humanity, must take place on the natural level, but above all, on the supernatural level, following the teaching of the Church and the example of the saints. In his talk Prof. de Mattei offered some “history flashes”, recalling that in speaking of the Church he is referring not only to the ecclesiastical authorities but to all the Christian people who are part of the Church.

Fr Serafino Lanzetta, theologian and pastor, spoke about the indispensable importance of spiritual life during a pandemic. The spiritual life of a Christian, Fr Lanzetta explained, is life in the Spirit, which means that through sanctifying grace the Holy Spirit transforms us in Christ. This divine life in us is even more necessary in a time of pandemic or of calamity in general, when technological-scientific certainties grow dim and the only true light is that of the faith that sees beyond. However, it is necessary to nourish this life in the Spirit with faith, hope, and prayer, so that all three may nourish charity. Fr Lanzetta pointed out that unfortunately, the social confusion and new fears that have arisen on account of the coronavirus have not been met with a truly Christian response, nor have the pastors been able to lead the faithful with supernatural wisdom, determining instead to let the rules of action be dictated to them by secular institutions. Hope has become worldly, either lauding the vaccine as the only remedy necessary or considering it the greatest conspiracy for the numbing of consciences. The problem is seen only as one of health and medicine, morality being considered as serving the purposes of public health and not vice versa, while God who guides history and events seems absent and a timely opportunity to evangelise the world is missed.

Finally, John Smeaton a leading pro-life campaigner for 50 years and the co-founder of Voice of the Family, spoke on the authority of Christ’s teaching and the pro-life fight. Whilst the church in Rome is preoccupied with a 2 year consultation on synodality and other issues, he said, we have a world order which is characterised by the systematised murder of children and other vulnerable human beings supported and funded by virtually every national government on earth. The staunch pro-life advocate emphasised, that the pro-life movement, which has done much good work, and saved many lives, clearly cannot win on its own the greatest war against humanity in history. Lack of formation on the part of the church has led to confusion of the people of God on fundamental moral concepts such as “intrinsic evil” and Covid-19 and government vaccination programmes have deepened this confusion, and created division amongst the lay faithful who risk losing a sense of priorities, he argued. Abortion and the corruption of children through school-based sex education are the greatest social and moral evils of the day bar none destroying 50 million lives a year and corrupting an entire generation of children. The full Gospel message about the truth and meaning of human sexuality and the sanctity of human life, teaching which is also part of the natural law written on all human hearts, is nowhere more fully spelled out than in the teaching of the Church. Mr Smeaton concluded, “Catholic pastors must teach the faithful with the courage of Cardinal von Galen, the great German bishop who denounced the Nazi regime’s contempt for human life and family values, and must be prepared to be reviled by the world for doing so.”


We hope that the conference contributions help us to a create a well ordered witness to life and the family at this time. With many debates going on, we must not lose sight of what we are fighting for. We fight for every life, born and unborn, to be protected so it can flourish in the knowledge, love and service of God and be with Him forever in heaven. In this trying hour for the Church and for the world, we must unite evermore strongly in the perennial teaching of the Church. This is our way forward in a spirit of charity which grows from the love of the truth.

Among those present at the conference were numerous priests and their Eminences Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Francis Arinze, both former prefects of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

The day was concluded with a solemn Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in honour of Raphael the Archangel, patron of health, body and soul.