By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
As the new COVID-19 vaccines gain more widespread use, they are provoking debate among Indiana lawmakers and the public while also prompting questions by the Catholic faithful.
At the same time, even face masks – nearly universal in their presence since the global coronavirus pandemic began – proved to be a source of contention at the Statehouse in Indianapolis earlier this month.
Dozens of people who gathered there to testify in favor of a vaccination-related bill on Jan. 14 defied Statehouse guidelines by refusing to mask once inside the building, causing others – mostly opponents of the potential legislation – to leave before having a chance to testify. Senate Bill 74 would prohibit Indiana companies from requiring employees or prospective employees to receive immunizations of any type if doing so would compromise their health or violate their conscience.
The Indiana Catholic Conference emphasizes that Catholic social teaching on the common good should underscore decision-making in all of these areas.
“While the COVID-19 vaccines cannot be mandated, the Catholic Church has made it clear that it is not only morally acceptable to receive the vaccines but encouraged as a means of turning the tide on this deadly pandemic,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana.
As has been widely reported, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – both at high risk for complications from the virus because of their age – received their first doses of the vaccine earlier this month.
Espada also pointed to the recent statement on ethical considerations related to the vaccines by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, co-authored by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Bishop Rhoades serves as chairman of the committee on doctrine for the USCCB.
In the document, he and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s committee on pro-life activities, addressed the moral concerns that stem from the three COVID-19 vaccines having some connection to cell lines that originated with tissue obtained from abortions.
“In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines,” the bishops’ statement reads. “Receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, 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.”
The bishops found the third COVID-19 vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to be “more morally compromised” than the others and concluded that it “should be avoided” if alternatives are available. In all cases, the bishops urged Catholics to remain “on guard so that the new COVID-19 vaccines do not desensitize us or weaken our determination to oppose the evil of abortion itself and the subsequent use of fetal cells in research.”
Espada praised Bishop Rhoades for his leadership on this issue.
“It is wonderful that one of Indiana’s own is at the forefront of these important ethical discussions,” Espada said.
With regard to the use of masks – at the Statehouse and elsewhere in public – Espada says the matter is even more straightforward.
“We encourage people to wear masks in this time of global crisis to protect themselves and others because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “If anyone wants to testify during this legislative session on issues important to the ICC – and we certainly encourage people to do so – they should always wear masks.”
It was an uneventful week on the legislative front. All government offices were closed Jan. 18 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In addition, the Indiana General Assembly cancelled all legislative activity for the entire week – and Gov. Eric Holcomb closed the state government complex for most of the week. This was out of an abundance of caution surrounding threats to state capitols related to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.
The General Assembly is expected to resume its business on Jan. 25.
To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.