Vatican Academy for Life takes on vaccine skeptics, including Catholics

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Pope Francis greets Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia during a meeting with members of the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on September 27. (CNS / Vatican Media)

Rome – On September 27, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a prominent vaccine skeptic, released a statement saying he still had difficulty breathing after being hospitalized for COVID-19. On the same day in Rome, where Burke lives, the Pontifical Academy for Life of the Vatican opened its General Assembly where the message could not have been clearer: Catholics must be vaccinated and help others to do the same. .

Less than 24 hours later, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, issued a decree formalizing an earlier announcement that all Vatican employees must be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Although he notes the possibility of a medical dispensation, no mention of a religious dispensation is offered.

In its assembly on September 27 and 28, the Pontifical Academy of Life, which works on issues at the intersection of bioethics and moral theology, used its spotlight at the center of the world church to advocate in promote equitable distribution of vaccines and combat vaccine skepticism. .

The academy’s message stood in stark contrast to a minority of vaccine skeptics, some of whom, like Burke, are other Catholics. Even after contracting and nearly succumbing to COVID-19, Burke and others have yet to use their large platforms to encourage other Catholics to get vaccinated.

“We are actually witnessing the biggest vaccination effort ever in history,” Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said at a press conference on September 28, then. that he advocated that Western countries fight against global disparities when it comes to access to vaccines.

Paglia’s words echoed those of Pope Francis, who met with the academy on September 27, where he again added his support for global immunization efforts.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, speaks at a press conference at the Vatican on September 28.  Cristiane Murray, vice-director of the Vatican Press Office, is also represented.  (SNC / Paul Haring)

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, speaks at a press conference at the Vatican on September 28. He spoke to reporters about the challenges of the pandemic, including inequalities in health care and reluctance to immunize. Cristiane Murray, vice-director of the Vatican Press Office, is also pictured. (SNC / Paul Haring)

“There is a need to overcome not only the vaccine gap,” Paglia said, raising the issue of vaccine skepticism, “but also unequal access to public health, removing barriers such as lack of facilities and by managing treatment resources more wisely. “

According to American bioethicist Therese Lysaught, a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, only about 10% of American Catholics are reluctant to be vaccinated, and many of them, she says, just want a space to “sit down.” face to face with someone and talk about their concerns. “

But then there is the reluctance to vaccinate, especially in the English-speaking Catholic world, as expressed by some Catholic bishops, like Burke and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, as well as Catholic organizations, including the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“As far as I know, the resistance from some church leaders and organizations is coming from a very different place,” Lysaught told NCR.

“Their statements systematically reflect a deep resistance to the legitimacy of government, often a veiled resistance to the papacy and the leadership of Pope Francis, a disturbing resistance to reason and an unfortunate resistance to dialogue,” she said.

For her, this is where the work of the academy can be effective.

“The Pontifical Academy for Life has done exactly what it should to try to overcome this by shaping the church’s commitments to the absolute worth of every human life, to truth, science and reason, cooperation with governments and other social organizations to promote the common good and to the constant process of dialogue, ”she said.

Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life listen to Pope Francis in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on September 27.  (CNS / Vatican Media)

Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life listen to Pope Francis in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on September 27. (CNS / Vatican Media)

Daniel Sulmasy, director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University and also a member of the academy, offered a similar assessment, noting that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy for Life have clearly stated that the vaccines are morally acceptable.

The Academy and the Church also stress that vaccines not only protect the vaccinated but also protect others against infection and that charity and respect for the common good advocate a moral duty to be vaccinated. Pope Francis has said so too, “he told NCR by email.

“Education, persuasion, encouragement of local parishes to work with public health authorities to combat vaccine reluctance and even sponsor health fairs where unvaccinated people can be vaccinated are so many constructive means that the Academy can approve “, he declared. “This is not ethical laxity. It is faithful reasoning, common sense, deeply Catholic.”

While the strongest voices of Catholics in the United States have armed the vaccine debate with political language, which has only deepened church divisions, the message to Rome has been more disciplined: vaccines are medically safe and ethically sound.

At a Vatican press conference on Tuesday, September 28, Paglia was joined by Dr David Barbe, president of the World Medical Association, who told reporters that when it comes to those who are reluctant to vaccinate , “We must continue to promote and transparent information, emphasize the benefits of the vaccine and continue to highlight the significantly higher risk of natural disease. “

Meanwhile, in the United States, some Catholic moral theologians and prominent clergy mocked the “false theology” behind the vaccination warrants and claimed that they constitute a violation of religious freedom.

During his address to the Pontifical Academy of Life on September 28, Lysaught addressed these criticisms directly, citing a recent statement by the Catholic bishops of Colorado in opposition to the warrants.

“Here, members of the Roman Catholic Magisterium echo secular arguments over individual freedom and social control that have been mobilized to resist public health efforts since the start of the pandemic,” Lysaught said.

“These statements offer no reason that would morally justify a conscience-based vaccine exemption from a Catholic point of view,” she continued, adding: “The basis of the moral argument is no longer the reason, but rather the individual feeling, the emotionality of the personal preference defended by neoliberalism. “

Following the two-day symposium, Mgr. Renzo Pegoraro, physician and chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told NCR: “Vaccination is a priority because it is very useful in preventing disease.”

“Prevention is very important for everyone in the world,” he said, adding that “all Catholics can take vaccines as an ethical responsibility for themselves and for the community to protect your health. , your life and that of others “.

Her words echoed Paglia’s closing argument earlier today: “Let’s not forget the first and most important lesson: to take care of our health, we must first be alive!

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