Some U.S. bishops are advising Roman Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, saying it is immoral because aborted human tissue is used in its manufacture.
Their guidance is stricter than the Vatican’s declaration that the formula is broadly acceptable for the faith’s 1.3 billion followers.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis, known as the “Rome of the West” for its size and influence, on Tuesday urged its 500,000 members to choose shots by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc., but to go with J&J “in good conscience if no other alternative is available.”
The Archdiocese of New Orleans, with 518,000 Catholics, was more forceful. In a Feb. 26 statement, it cited “the wrongdoing” of the vaccine’s creators for the “extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.” The two archdioceses declared the formula “morally compromised.”
Asked to comment, Sarah McDonald, a New Orleans archdiocese spokeswoman, emailed a portion of the guidance: “If the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”
The U.S. coronavirus death toll on Feb. 22 surpassed 500,000 as Catholics worldwide observed Lent, the season that precedes Easter, the Church’s holiest day. Almost 25% of Americans identify as Roman Catholic, according to a 2018 Gallup Poll.
The sanctity of life is central to global church teaching, and abortion is considered a grave sin, even if the fetus is the result of rape or the expectant mother’s life is in danger. On Dec. 21, though, the Vatican — the center of Catholic rule — declared that COVID-19 vaccines tied to abortion “can be used in good conscience.”
“The morality of the vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to protect the common good,” according to a statement ordered to be published by Pope Francis.
In the absence of choices, “It is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”
J&J’s product is the third to enter the U.S. market after its approval by the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday. The formula, which doesn’t need freezer storage and is one shot as opposed to its rivals’ two, will ease broader distribution and faster population immunity. Its addition, with manufacturing help from Merck & Co., means that enough vaccine doses will be on hand by the end of May for every American adult, said President Joe Biden, who is Catholic.
The development of all three vaccines relied on cells from aborted fetal tissue, though none has that ingredient in the shots. The product by New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J differs because the cells are used during production.
“We are able to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses using our engineered cell-line system and look forward to delivering those doses around the world and help meet the critical need,” spokesperson Lisa Cannellos said in a statement.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement issued Tuesday, said that if one has the choice, it should be “the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines.”
“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good,” read the statement, by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.
Maria Lemakis, a spokesperson for the St. Louis Archdiocese, said in an email that no one was available to comment but that its J&J statement is aligned with that of the bishops group.