The debate rears its ugly head even in the safest of places.

A mom posts in my local homeschool group that her family is going through pertussis - all of them - including her vaccinated husband and vaccinated public school child. First there are posts back showing support and advice on how to soldier through with a household of sick children. Then the accusation, "Weren't your children vaccinated?"

My finger hovers over my mouse, strategically positioned between the delete and the moderation button.  This is the type of discussion that can get heated quickly, and the relationships and camaraderie of this group of woman could be broken with one harsh word or a misinterpretation of intentions.

What breaks the camels back and causes me to hit delete and then quickly put us into moderation mode was a comment like this. "The Pope says that everyone should vaccinate their kids for the common good and it's a sin not to vaccinate."

Nothing is going to kill off a Catholic support group faster than a decree from the pope!

The thing is - it wasn't the pope.

But let me start back at the beginning.

In 2001, Arkansas mother, Shannon Law, was faced with making a decision - have her kids vaccinated with vaccines from aborted fetal cell lines, or get kicked out of school.  She opted to call the Vatican!

As the deadline for getting the vaccinations approached, Shannon knew she could wait no longer.  She picked up the phone and called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican and spoke to Msgr. Charles Brown who assured her he would look into the matter at once. As she awaited a response that would surely take more time than the school would allow, she then contacted American Life League and Children of God for Life.  Within hours, Children of God for Life contacted Msgr. Brown, who upon learning the problem was not confined to only Mrs. Law, requested a package of information to be sent to His Eminence Josef Cardinal Ratzinger.  Meanwhile Msgr. Brown's instruction was clear: all Catholics should be instructed to use the Church teaching on Moral Conscience while the Vatican reviewed the issue.  Further, he warned that, "To turn away from one's conscience would be a grave error."

In 2005 Mrs. Debra Vinnedge wrote a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).  She asked for the church to make a strong statement against vaccinations made from the cell lines of aborted fetuses so that Catholic parents could exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations when attending school.

Her letter was passed on to The Pontifical Academy for Life and she received a reply from Bishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

OK so just to be clear, there was no such statement from Benedict XVI or Francis I.  The pope isn't saying your kids need to be vaccinated or that they shouldn't be vaccinated!  You can read the entire response here.

Later that year, Msr. Jacques Suaudeau of the Pontifical Academy for the Family clarified the Vatican statement.

“1) The document as such supports the position of Children of God [for Life]. It denounces the use of “tainted” vaccines, it asks for alternative vaccines; it invites (the document speak about a “duty”, which is a pretty strong word) parents (and others) to put pressure on government and companies to offer alternative vaccines. The document speaks clearly about “conscientious objection”(p.7). This was the main point of the document.  As such I do think that Children of God [for Life] have there a useful instrument to put pressure on local authorities in order to get exemption of vaccination for their children, in schools. But more important is the lobbying to get the alternative vaccines free entrance in the U.S.”

“2) The restriction formula about the possible use of tainted vaccines in conditions “of considerable dangers”(p.7) was needed: in fact we had problems with local (Italian) journals using titles like that: “Vatican forbid vaccinations”.

It seems to me that the Vatican encourages drug makers to manufacture licit vaccines and I think you could even take it to mean that they think that drug makers are headed in that direction.

But are they?

Apparently not.  The chicken pox vaccine came out in 2006 and some flu shots comes from aborted fetal cell lines. Clearly big pharma isn't that anxious to get out of the profitable fetal cell line business.

But what does this mean to the average Catholic parent?  How can we protect our children and keep the faith?

Well no one said it would be easy.  The Vatican documents were clear that parents were to follow their consciences but also that their consciences should be well formed.  When it comes to vaccines it's important to know

  • Why is this vaccine being given to my child?
  • Is there a morally licit alternative? 
  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • What are the long-range consequences? 
  • How effective is the vaccine?
  • How long will the immunity last?
  • If my child got the disease instead can it be treated effectively?

After getting that information and prayerfully considering the information, it may be morally licit to get the vaccinations.  But a parents who forms their consciences otherwise could also be making a morally licit decision.

and remember - even professional theologians disagree on this!

Copyright 2014 Elena LaVictoire