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Editorial | Reading beyond the headlines

Church teaching on vaccines is example of issues that require a thorough reading

Addressing concern over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the chairmen of two U.S. Catholic bishops’ committees stated, “when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses.”

Use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, approved Feb. 27 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raises moral concerns because it was “was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines,” the bishops said. While Catholics should continue to advocate for vaccines free of links to abortion, the bishops have made it clear that the faithful may receive inoculations if no alternatives are available.

Following the FDA’s authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as with all vaccines, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski and the Archdiocese of St. Louis encouraged Catholics to examine the moral and ethical concerns surrounding the decision to receive this vaccination. One such resource is the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which has researched whether the eight leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates supported by Operation Warp Speed are being produced or tested using cells derived from abortions.

Archbishop Rozanski echoed the U.S. bishops in saying that Catholics who appropriately question the morality of accepting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may receive the inoculation in good conscience if no other alternative is available.

Unfortunately, some people only grasped part of the bishops’ message.

This matter, as with many others in which we must form our consciences, has become muddled in the mix of today’s media. Proper formation requires reading past the headlines, tweets and Facebook comments. Catholic information sources such as those through our dioceses, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican provide a thorough examination of these issues.

Media literacy, as defined by the independent, research-based nonprofit Common Sense Media, is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending. This is more than the traditional journalistic media (TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines) — included are text messages, memes, viral videos, social media, video games, advertising and any other means of conveying messages. Understanding those media, the reason they exist, and who is behind the message is the basis of media literacy.

Pope Francis, in his 2021 World Day of Communications message, expressed gratitude for the courage and commitment of journalists who often risk their lives in carrying out their work. Thanks to their efforts, we now know, for example, about the hardships endured by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars that otherwise would be overlooked.

At the same time, the risk of misinformation being spread on social media has become evident to everyone, the Pope emphasized. “Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see and to share.”

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has led to increased anxiety and worry. As we form our consciences by examining the potential moral and ethical concerns surrounding the newest vaccines, we must remain balanced in our approach, take our time and look further than the headlines and hot takes.

>> More information about COVID-19 vaccines

Statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis: https://bit.ly/3b7wqV0

Statement from Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann: http://bit.ly/3kFJeFy

Information from the Missouri bishops in the MCC Messenger: https://bit.ly/2NUupTs

“Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines” resources prepared by the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Secretariat: https://bit.ly/3sGUqUR.

Charlotte Lozier Institute: https://lozierinstitute.org/

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