The supreme authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may not be challenged by declaration

By Roberto de Mattei

A declaration that opposes “the moral liceity of the abortion-tainted experimental injections for COVID-19” (hereafter referred to as Declaration) has for several days been making the rounds among Catholics, on a private basis, in an effort to collect signatures of religious and lay figures in opposition to the “reception of these morally tainted, dangerous, and ineffective products, along with the unjust mandates for their reception being imposed upon millions of students and workers across the Christian West”. 

What prompts us to criticise this Declaration before it is published is the esteem we have for some of the promoters of the initiative. We are in fact convinced that the statement according to which those who get vaccinated are committing a sin represents a grave error that is opposed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to the consensus of eminent moral theologians and bioethicists (including H.E. Willem Cardinal Eijk, Fr Ezra Sullivan O.P., Prof. Josef SeifertDr Joseph Shawthe National Catholic Bioethical CenterFr Arnaud Sélégny). Furthermore, it is an opinion that sows unjustified problems of conscience and represents a real “own goal”, as the Italian journalist Francesco Boezi defines the fragile theses of the antivax segment of the traditionalist world. These Catholics, according to Boezi, threaten to compromise the credibility of an entire front, leaving the progressives with plain sailing for the future.

The Declaration, as it has come to us, is made up of twenty-four points introduced with the legal term “whereas”, followed by a brief conclusion that on the basis of the preamble presents the reasons for the rejection of the “moral liceity of the abortion-tainted experimental injections for COVID-19”.

The first two points of the Declaration refer to the passages of the constitution Gaudium et Spes (51 §3, 27) and of Evangelium Vitae (no. 58) that reaffirm the condemnation of abortion. A condemnation, it would have been good to specify, that has been part of the Church’s Magisterium since time immemorial and is confirmed by these documents.

The fourth and fifth preamble refer to the Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines issued on 21 December by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Note). 

According to this important document, “it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted foetuses in their research and production process” (no. 2, emphasis in the original). “The fundamental reason for considering the use of these vaccines morally licit is that the kind of cooperation in evil (passive material cooperation) in the procured abortion from which these cell lines originate is, on the part of those making use of the resulting vaccines, remote. The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent – in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognised 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 production of the vaccines derive. It should be emphasised, however, that the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines” (no. 3). The Note of the Holy See adds that “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good (no. 5, emphasis in the original). In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted foetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.”

The Declaration summarises the Note of the Holy See, stating that it “explicitly affirms that there remains a ‘moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation’ in the crime of abortion by use of said injections; yet explains this duty is ‘not obligatory’ in the presence of a ‘grave danger’ that can be evaded by the ‘vaccine’, and when an ‘ethically irreproachable Covid-19’ alternative therapy is not available”. This allows the author of the Declaration to add to point 6: “Whereas absent the presence of at least these criteria it remains morally illicit to receive said injections”. This is not exact if one reads the text carefully.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is implicitly recognised as the supreme authority in the field of faith and morals, but the subsequent preamble (no. 6) states that: “Whereas despite the Note expressing the opinion that the current ‘pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19’ constitutes the necessary ‘grave danger’ to justify the use of abortion-tainted vaccines, such a judgement is beyond the competence of bishops to make in an authoritative way, as their competence is defined as pertaining to the realms of faith and morals (LG 25)”.

With these words, the Declaration tries to undermine the credibility of the Note of the Holy See, stating that the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is limited to the field of faith and morals and does not extend to that of medicine. The Note would therefore be worthless, because it is based on false or inaccurate scientific data. From this point on, or from preamble no. 7 to no. 21, the Declaration assembles a series of scientific data according to which the Covid-19 pandemic does not constitute a grave danger and the vaccines are an ineffective and indeed harmful tool for stopping it.

Arguing in this way, the drafters of the Declaration claim to have arrived at moral conclusions opposed to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, basing themselves on scientific data, while at the same time accusing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of being incompetent in the scientific field. The question is obvious: what is the scientific competence of those who wrote the document? And why would it be lawful for private individuals to formulate a moral judgement based on scientific data if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may not do so?

The data on which the judgement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is based are those universally accepted by the health authorities of all nations of the world. Are the data false? If we start from the principle that all national or international institutions lie, all modern medicine and hospital care collapses. How do we replace it? In fact, the existence of a pandemic, with countless millions of confirmed cases and millions of deaths in the world is a fact that falls within the concrete experience of each one of us, even before we take into account the WHO data indicating that there have been 250 million confirmed cases and 5 million deaths. And evidence is the basis of any philosophical and moral judgement. On the other hand, the antivaxers who today deny the severity of the disease are often the same ones who for a long time denied its existence (and in part still do). How is it possible to imagine that something that does not exist is, at the same time, not serious? 

After this long and improper intrusion into the scientific world, the preambles 22, 23, and 24 of the Declaration again propose as an undisputed truth the thesis of the moral illegitimacy of vaccination against Covid-19, based on a text by Fr Michael Copenhagen (already thoroughly refuted by Dr Joseph Shaw): “Whereas further moral analysis reveals a prohibitive objection in observing that the recipient of any such injection becomes ‘an immediate participant in the commission of continuous theft of human remains obtained through deliberate killing, their desecration through exploitation and trafficking, as well as ultimate omission to respectfully bury them’.”

The Declaration concludes with these words: “We the undersigned hereby affirm that even presuming an individual is fully opposed to these gene-based vaccines being tainted with the horrendous crime of abortion, that due to the presence of any of the three following conditions referenced above, it remains objectively morally illicit for a person to accept these shots:

  • the manifest lack of a “grave danger” posed by COVID-19,
  • the positive availability of safe and effective “ethically irreproachable Covid-19” therapies, and 
  • the absence of adequate testing data which is morally necessary for even attempting to calculate a risk/ benefit analysis for such experimental gene therapies.”

So after denying the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the right to use scientific data and using (pseudo) scientific data to issue a statement of moral truth, the time has come for the drafters of the Declaration to take the place of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as supreme moral authority and to proclaim this on the internet to Catholics around the world. 

However, as Saint Pius X teaches in the encyclical Pascendi, the Magisterium of the Church is not born of individual consciences and does not have a democratic form. The rule of faith and morals lies in the Tradition of the Church and not in signatures collected on the web. And the sensus fidei is truly such only when it perceives a direct contrast between what churchmen are proposing and what the Church has always taught. This is not the case with the Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reassuring us on the moral legitimacy of vaccination.