By Inés San Martín
ROSARIO, Argentina (Crux) – Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a member of Pope Francis’s council of cardinal advisers, said he hopes that the example of the pope and his predecessor Benedict XVI receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will inspire others to follow suit and recognize that getting it is “the morally correct thing to do.”
The American cardinal was speaking at a Zoom gathering that included Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City; Dr. Katarina Le Blanc, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and clinical immunologist from the Karolinska Institute in Switzerland; and Enrique García Rodríguez, former treasurer of the Inter-American Development Bank.
“We are very lucky to live in a time when science allows for the development of a vaccines in such a short period of time,” Le Blanc said, noting that not long ago, developing a vaccine in a year would have been unthinkable, taking into consideration the many processes involved in such an effort, including the identification of the virus, developing in-scale manufacture, clinical trials, and the publication of the data in peer-reviewed journals.
Acknowledging that cells lines originating from specific abortions were used in the development of some of the COVID-19 vaccines available today, Le Blanc said that “there are no body parts or fetal tissue left” in the vaccines administered to the public.”
“Furthermore, she quoted the guidelines published by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) last December, that state that there’s no moral culpability in receiving the vaccine, and that doing so does not mean supporting abortion in any circumstance,” she said.
Cardinal O’Malley also quoted the CDF document, and one subsequently published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on the ethical issues surrounding the vaccine.
“Even if in some occasions the spread and explanation of the teachings of the Church has not been consistent and clear, it’s very important than in the case of the vaccines against COVID-19, all the main sources of the Church on vaccines, are in complete harmony,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
There is a connection to abortion in the Pfitzer and Moderna vaccines, the cardinal said, but as both the CDF and the USCCB noted, it’s “relatively remote,” and taking into consideration the “incontrollable nature of the illness,” all vaccines recognized as safe and efficient “can be used, with the certainty that it does not imply a formal cooperation with abortion.”
Le Blanc also noted that some individuals might not have the possibility of choosing what vaccine to receive, since particular governments might decide, and encouraged their global distribution, taking into account that it cannot be too expensive and distributing vaccines that require freezing might be impossible in underdeveloped countries.
She also said that a year into the pandemic, it’s become evident that social distancing is not enough to stop COVID-19: “Vaccination is the only way to stop the pandemic, but since we still do not know if all people with different underlining conditions can be safely vaccinated,” it’s still important to show consideration to others by wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, washing hands regularly, and following travel guidance even after receiving the vaccine.
The seminar was organized by the Academy of Catholic Leaders from Latin America, under the title of “Christians in front of the COVID-19 vaccines,” and it was meant to answer questions such as: “Must a Christian receive the vaccine? Is it morally mandatory? Is it safe to do so? What will be the social and economic consequences?”
Cardinal Aguiar, who heads the academy, was tasked with opening the seminar. In his short remarks, he said the scope of the summit was to try to counter some “conspiracy theories” that have proliferated in social media in recent months. Among these, he noted, is a claim the vaccines “can modify the human DNA to reduce birth rate; and there are even those who say they will implant a traceable microchip.”
“There are unsubstantiated theories that need to be unmasked,” the cardinal said. “Many experts have dedicated themselves to combating these theories that have proliferated, even in Catholic spheres.”
García Rodríguez gave an overview of the economic impact the pandemic will have, focusing primarily in Latin America.
“There’s no doubt whatsoever that we’re facing the biggest global crisis in the last 80 years,” he said. “It’s a health crisis; an economic crisis with very serious complications in the development and destruction of the business infrastructure, which leads to unemployment and families outside of the system; and finally, it’s a social and human crisis.”
Poverty and inequality are expanding at a speed the world has never seen, and this is sped up not only by the pandemic, but also by a crisis of multilateralism, with bodies such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations loosing teeth; an exaggerated nationalism; and racism.
He also said that no region in the world has suffered more economically from the pandemic than Latin America, with the local economy shrinking by 9 percent – compared to 3 percent in other developing economies, including Africa.
The priority in the immediate future, he said, has to be controlling the pandemic, and as such, guaranteeing that everyone has access to the vaccine. And this is the responsibility of every single actor, from the government to multilateral organizations and philanthropists.
“But we need to go beyond the short term,” he said. “We need to come up with a new development strategy for the long term, to guarantee more equality. An integral vision is needed.”
During the meeting, Cardinal O’Malley was asked if he though the pandemic was a “punishment from God.”
He answered by saying that when Jesus was asked if a man was blind due to his own sins or those of his ancestors, the Son of God said that it was neither, but “for God’s glory to be manifested.”
“I believe that even in the pandemic it’s possible to see God’s glory manifested,” said the American cardinal. “In the sacrifice and generosity of so many people who are caring for the sick, risking their lives to help their neighbor. And it has allowed us to reflect on what’s truly important in our lives: it’s not trivial things such as pleasure and money, but faith and family.”
“God can make something good out of something bad, and God, in his great power and mercy, will make something beautiful from this moment,” Cardinal O’Malley argued.