Bishop Robert Deeley, photographed outside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland’s offices Thursday, is urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, easing some Catholics’ concerns about possible connections between the vaccines and fetal tissue. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a statement meant to allay the concerns of some Catholics about possible connections between the vaccines and fetal tissue originating from abortions.

“This has been a serious concern of all of us in the church through the last number of months,” Bishop Robert Deeley said in an interview Thursday. “As bishops in the U.S., we did write a letter to the government asking there be a vaccine developed from ethical sources so it would be possible for us to receive.”

Deeley said that the vaccine by Pfizer, which received the backing of a scientific panel on Thursday, and another by Moderna that is up for review next week are in line with the requests the bishops made and he is advising people to get inoculated when the two vaccines become available this month.

“We’re grateful they are in fact ethical,” Deeley said. “That’s the conclusion and it is intended to allay any concerns. Yes, I have heard concerns from people who are pro-life that they do not want to be using a vaccine which has come from aborted fetuses, so this statement assures them they in fact (are) not.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had earlier this year written to the U.S. government calling for the development of an ethical vaccine, does not have governance authority over bishops or dioceses, but issued a memo last month to assist bishops in communicating to their individual dioceses about whether it would be moral to receive the two vaccines expected to be released this month.

Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from an abortion at any level of design, development or production, the memo said. The memo also asserted, however, that the two vaccines do have a remote connection to abortion because of a “tainted cell line” used in a test to make sure they work.

Some in the Catholic community have used that to argue it would be immoral to receive the vaccine, but the conference committees on doctrine and pro-life activities wrote that would be an inaccurate interpretation of teaching. Instead, Catholics should accept the vaccine when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to public health.

“Caring for the common good of all provides an encouragement to all to receive the vaccination for both their own health and safety and that of others,” Deeley said.

Pfizer’s media relations department said in an email Thursday their product is a “synthetically designed vaccine that contains no human or animal products.” The company did not respond to a follow-up question asking about the test used to ensure that the vaccine works.

A Moderna spokesperson said in a written statement that the company’s vaccine “contains no tissue of fetal origin and Moderna does not use any fetal tissue in its production.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland oversees about 250,000 Catholics in Maine. Bishops in other states also have spoken up in recent days to assure Catholics that it is morally permissible to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In Fresno, California, where Bishop Joseph Brennan had previously urged Catholics to not “jump on the COVID-19 vaccine bandwagon,” the bishop issued a clarifying letter Wednesday saying that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines “only utilized elicit materials to a small extent” in their testing, not in their development or research.

“Without better alternatives and following serious reflection upon the health risks and needs for oneself, one’s family, and the broader community, Catholics may ethically decide for serious reasons to utilize such vaccines,” Brennan wrote.


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