ROME — Members of the Catholic Church, especially religious working in health care and schools, have an important opportunity and duty to educate people about COVID-19 and to counter resistance to vaccinations, said an expert on the Vatican’s COVID-19 commission.
Women religious and Catholic organizations who serve others every day and have people’s trust are “our best hope for safe and fair distribution of vaccines as well as the best tool for convincing people of the safety and importance of taking the vaccines,” said Sister Carol Keehan, a nurse and Daughter of Charity.
The Church has clear teachings about the need for more ethical ways to produce and test vaccines, but the Church has said that receiving vaccines is not participating or cooperating with the evil of abortion, she said during an online meeting April 27 sponsored by the Rome-based International Union of Superiors General.
The event, dedicated to how women religious can be leaders in bringing Gospel values to new models of the economy and health care, was part of a series of meetings looking at ways sisters can empower other women and accompany and support those most affected and marginalized by the pandemic.
Sister Keehan is the chair of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s health task force. She gave the more than 300 participants online an overview of the two main goals of the task force: an equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments, and reducing the resistance to taking the vaccine.
“For years we have known that most vaccines are made and/or tested using stem cells grown in a laboratory that originated from a fetus aborted over 40 years ago. Almost all of us have had a vaccine made in this way,” she said.
“The Church has decades of theology and ethical teachings, asking that better ways of testing and producing vaccines should be a goal but that taking these vaccines, or administering them to children, is not participating or cooperating with the evil of abortion,” she said.
“In spite of this, a number of voices immediately started refusing to take the vaccines that had been made and or tested this way. Some of them were bishops in various dioceses, as well as priests and other teachers of the faith,” she said.
Several Vatican dicasteries stepped in again to clarify the Church’s position on the acceptability of the vaccines when no others are available, and, she added, “Pope Francis has been very clear that it is a moral responsibility to take the vaccines to protect oneself, one’s family and one’s community from this deadly disease.”
Sister Keehan urged religious and Catholic organizations to recognize and utilize the credibility and trust they have with the communities they work with.
Religious congregations and Catholic aid groups will be key players in distributing the vaccine in poor nations where there is wide skepticism and deeply ingrained distrust of vaccination programs by the government or other groups.
Many countries in Africa have “really good reasons” for that skepticism, she said, citing examples of people being tricked into paying for free shots, vaccines being diluted, counterfeit or sold to the wealthy.
“Many people have said over and over again, ‘Pope Francis got the vaccine. Pope Francis told me I should get it for my family and that made me decide I would get it,’” she said.
Women religious also have tremendous credibility from their decades of helping people during outbreaks of Ebola, HIV, malaria and other infectious or deadly diseases, she said. And they can have an impact once again during this current pandemic by educating people and making sure safe and effective vaccines are used correctly and go to everyone.
The Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines” in building a better world, she said, and this global problem must be faced “as a global family.”
Resources about Church teaching and bishops’ positions on COVID-19 vaccines
• Archdiocesan coronavirus information: archstl.org/coronavirus-covid-19
• Vatican COVID-19 commission resource kit for Church leaders, (downloadable PDF): www.stlreview.com/3nuZkTx
• Story “FDA approval of three COVID-19 vaccines has prompted morality-related questions about how they were created. Here’s what you need to know” www.stlreview.com/3aLxptz
• Story “Vatican: Without alternatives, current COVID-19 vaccines are morally acceptable” www.stlreview.com/2QuQHwt
• Vatican COVID-19 commission www.humandevelopment.va/en/vatican-covid-19.html