Bishop Walks Back Statement Asserting ‘Moral Obligation’ to Get Coronavirus Vaccine

Nurse Practitioner Terri Welch prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, at the Haxby and Wigginton Group Medical Practice in Haxby, northern England on December 22, 2020. - Europe is expected to start a massive vaccination campaign after Christmas following the United States and Britain, which have begun giving …
LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty

Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann has softened his position on the moral duty to receive a coronavirus vaccine, saying his words on the subject had been misinterpreted.

In a joint statement last week with Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Archbishop Naumann asserted that “being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.”

“Some interpreted the Dec. 14 statement to say Catholics had a moral obligation to receive the vaccine,” wrote Carol Zimmermann for Catholic News Service (CNS) Tuesday.

“The short answer is we don’t have a moral obligation” to do so, Archbishop Naumann told CNS in an interview. The intent of the statement was rather “to show it is permissible to use these vaccines.”

“What we do say is that there is a moral obligation to work for the common good,” he added.

On Monday, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) clarified that no one has a moral obligation to receive a vaccine.

Practical reason “makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary,” the CDF stated in its “Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines.”

The text adds that from the ethical point of view, “the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good, which may “recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.”

The Vatican’s clarification comes at an opportune moment, as more and more Church leaders have been insisting that Catholics have a moral duty to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Along with last week’s statement by Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Rhoades, two English Catholic bishops wrote last summer that receiving a coronavirus vaccine is morally compulsory.

“The Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination and regards Catholics as having a prima facie duty to be vaccinated,” wrote Bishops Paul Mason and John Sherrington in a July 31 essay titled “Bishops clarify the Catholic position on vaccination.”

“We believe that there is a moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others,” they declared. “This is especially important for the discovery of a vaccine against COVID-19.”

Similarly, in 2017, two Catholic laymen, Paul J. Carson and Anthony T. Flood, argued in a paper titled “Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate” that from the perspective of Catholic social teaching “there is a moral duty to vaccinate.”

The confusion surrounding a purported moral duty to receive vaccinations was further aggravated by a 2017 text from the Pontifical Academy for Life, which asserted “the moral responsibility to vaccinate” in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.

In its clarification Monday, the Vatican said it was responding to several requests for guidance regarding the use of vaccines with morally questionable origins as well as a need to clear up “diverse and sometimes conflicting pronouncements in the mass media by bishops, Catholic associations, and experts.”

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