Bishop Joseph Strickland (Tyler, TX), along with Dr. Catherine Ruth Pakaluk, myself, and two others, recently released the statement “To Awaken Conscience” regarding the scandal given by Catholic leaders’ widespread acceptance of abortion-tainted COVID-19 vaccines. Since then, the statement has received extensive support—more than 3,000 co-signers to date. It has, however, also elicited controversy in the Catholic world. Many people have asked about our motivation for creating the statement, which is what I seek to explain here.

In early March, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk wrote to me at the urging of her husband, Dr. Michael Pakaluk. Both are professors at The Catholic University of America. They read an opinion I wrote at The Catholic World Report about moving beyond vaccines. My concern is that Catholics have surrendered the moral authority at the global level because bishops, moral theologians, and bioethicists have focused too much on defending the permissibility of “remote cooperation in evil” and not enough on the risk of scandal. By making it clear that Catholics find it morally licit to benefit from abortion, we conceded hard-won ground in the defense of the dignity and sanctity of human life.

I asked Catholics to slow down, take in the landscape of this moment in history, and to consider their words; to take an outside-in view of the situation instead of a view through the lens of a Catholic bubble. It may satisfy the Catholic conscience to say that we oppose abortion even as we accept the abortion-tainted vaccines, but to the rest of the world the message we send is contradictory. It appears to put us in the same category as any pro-abortion advocate. If we truly find it moral to benefit from abortion, then we are ultimately no different from the abortionist. And that is an insurmountable problem for the conscience of many good Catholics. 

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