A death-dealing industry and a death-dealing illness are the horns of a dilemma that many Catholics feel caught up in, and the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine has brought new heat to the debate. Of course, as Catholics, we heed the battle cry, “death before sin,” and refuse to participate in the evil of abortion (i.e., murder), an evil from which the Johnson & Johnson vaccine derives its existence. And it would be a very good thing if this was the battle cry coming loud and clear from our bishops instead of their beating around the abortion bush.

On March 2, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement on the new single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for use in the United States. This particular vaccine has been reported as a preferred vaccination option since it can be maintained in standard refrigeration storage and administered in a single dose, making it more efficient in some ways than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. As we all know, vaccines have been created for decades using human cell lines, and they have been successful in inoculating against measles, smallpox, and rubella. These cell lines, however, were derived from aborted babies, such as HEK-293, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was derived from this murder. 

While the USCCB statement communicates caution regarding the profound moral quandary posed by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its direct derivation from the cell lines of aborted babies, it is disconcerting to hear it couched in language that seems to intend ambivalence or some sort of social correctness—as though abortion and its toxic fruits were merely a mild matter that raises “additional moral concern” and “questions about the moral permissibility.” Soft terms indeed for hard truths. By all appearances, there is a collective refusal on the part of our bishops to take the moral consequences of some vaccines as seriously as they should because they are too swept up in fearing the pandemic as much as secular society says they should—namely, as if it were a worldwide wave of the Black Death, which it isn’t.

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