Bishop Robert Vasa: Moral Conscience and the PAFL Document

Moral Conscience and Aborted Fetal Vaccines

Reviewed and Revised by

Most Reverend Robert F. Vasa, Catholic Medical Association Spiritual Advisor

Bishop of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.  Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that.  For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.  His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged.” (Gaudium et Spes, 16)

Moral conscience is the inner sanctuary where man meets the Divine. It is embodied in the Natural Law and is written in the human heart.  It is the very root of all religious tenets where the supreme principle of moral action must have goodness at its center.

The problem that comes into play is an abuse of this sacred privilege, which is ordained by God in His gift of free will to all human beings.  There are some who will profess that by their own conscience it is proper to have an abortion, cheat on their taxes, euthanize the elderly, cohabitate with their partner or engage in a homosexual relationship.  These actions are often justified for a variety of reasons within the mind of the individual performing them, however, each of these violates the very principles of the Natural law.  These are not really “judgments” of conscience as much as they are free autonomous “decisions”.  (cf. Veritatis Splendor)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites the ability to discern one’s conscience based on God’s truth is found in the Cardinal Virtue, Prudence. 

“Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.  Prudence is ‘right reason in action,’ writes St. Thomas Aquinas. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment.” (CCC 1806)

It is thus fitting then that the Church recognizes the gift of prudence to belong to a conscience attuned to God’s will:

“When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.” (CCC 1777)

In order to have a well-formed conscience, the actions of the person must not be contrary to the Natural law or in opposition to the teachings of the Church, which faithful Catholics acknowledge to be an interpretation of the Divine Will.  But in many cases, the Church has not clearly defined what the proper action may be for every circumstance and thus, the faithful must then use her relevant teachings, priestly guidance, prayer and a properly formed conscience to direct their actions.  Such is the case with the use of aborted fetal vaccines.  While the PAFL has issued the statement, Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Foetuses to assist Catholics in this matter, essentially they approved both the use of vaccines and abstinence from the use of vaccines – and both under certain conditions and circumstances.

The PAFL laid out clear guidelines when it would be permissible or perhaps even obligatory to use the tainted vaccines – and when it would be a proper action to refuse them.  It is important to realize when reading the document that it was not written for just the United States, but for the entire world, because indeed, some of the data does not apply to US vaccines or present health conditions. But let us first address the issue of when one should or should not use the vaccines as it relates to our discussion on the formation of one’s moral conscience.

We will begin this analysis with Page 7 of the document:

“As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience. Moreover, we find, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles.”.15
We will break down this entire paragraph and analyze each sentence carefully. First and foremost it states that it is “right to abstain”: not that it is A RIGHT, but that it IS right – meaning it is a proper action. Next they lay out the conditions when it would be proper to do so – if it can be done without significant risk to the health of the child or the population.  This is an important caveat because in the US, religious exemptions to vaccinations have been used for decades without any notable increases in the incidence of outbreaks.  Rubella, which is the primary focus of the document, has been eliminated in the US as of 2005 according to the Centers for Disease Control. So in reality, the condition of “significant risk” is not a present factor among US citizens, though it could be in other parts of the world, which is why the Vatican takes great care in addressing it.

The report then goes on to state that if there is “considerable danger”, the vaccines may be used on a “temporary basis”. As noted, there is presently no considerable danger in the US, so we now move to the proviso of using them on a “temporary basis”.  This does not mean that if one chooses to use the aborted fetal vaccines that they can do so forever with a nonchalant, cavalier posture.  As strongly noted elsewhere in the document[i], there is a responsibility to bring about effective moral changes to this situation and that burden does not lie only with the pharmaceutical companies, but with consumers, medical professionals and health officials as well.

The very next sentence states that it is not “obligatory” to avoid passive material cooperation “if there is a grave inconvenience”.  They are not saying it is not permissible to abstain from using the tainted vaccines – they said it is not obligatory to abstain.  If a person wants to avoid this type of cooperation, the PAFL does not deny them that right. They simply say it is not required if there is grave inconvenience.  In other words, lacking grave inconvenience even passive material cooperation should be avoided. (PAFL Pg. 5, par. 2)  While this passive material cooperation may not be a grave sin on the part of the individual, he or she should not voluntarily cooperate unless failing to do so would cause serious inconvenience (i.e. there is some form of duress).  Clearly, even free and voluntary participation in this form of cooperation is not seriously sinful but the implication is that it is “better” to avoid this cooperation than to seek it.

Does a person have to forego a military career, education, medical training or employment where some of these vaccines are required?  The answer is no – not if it means undue hardships for the family.  But for most families, such situations do not exist. For example, parents are free to file religious exemptions for school age and college children in 48 of 50 states in full accord with the State laws.  Would the parents in the other two states – West Va. and Mississippi – have to quit their jobs and home-school their children?  No.  This would most likely be an extreme hardship for the families. But would it be considered a “grave inconvenience” if all one has to do is request ethical alternatives or perhaps go to another physician if their own family doctor cannot supply them?

One must examine their own situation and decide – and the Vatican has left that to the individual, offering guidelines to assist them in that decision.

And finally as we examine the final citation regarding a “proportional reason” to use the vaccines – it reads: “we find in such cases a proportionate reason….” The words “such cases” refers to the sentences immediately preceding it: when there is a grave inconvenience or considerable danger to their health or the health of the population.  We would also note that the final sentence refers strongly to German measles (rubella), which as duly noted, poses no risk to the population of the United States.

As the PAFL has laid out the parameters for when the vaccines should be used, it is logical that two people may read the document and draw different conclusions, especially those in foreign countries where rubella still presents a significant risk.

Now comes the question: Would a person who chooses to abstain from using vaccines when they are even remotely, materially cooperating with the crime of abortion be acting out of a properly formed moral conscience?

We would contend that their conscientious desire to avoid remote material cooperation with an evil as immense and horrendous as abortion, provided they also meet the criteria as defined in the document for their particular environment and health conditions, would qualify as being consistent with a properly formed conscience, especially since it does not conflict with Magisterial teaching.

The PAFL references conscience in 5 different sections of the document:

“They should take recourse, if necessary, to the use of conscientious objection 14 with regard to the use of vaccines produced by means of cell lines of aborted human foetal origin. (Page 7)

“Such a duty may lead, as a consequence, to taking recourse to “objection of conscience” when the action recognized as illicit is an act permitted or even encouraged by the laws of the country and poses a threat to human life. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae underlined this “obligation to oppose” the laws which permit abortion or euthanasia ‘by conscientious objection’ (no.73)” (Footnote 14)

“It is up to the faithful and citizens of upright conscience (fathers of families, doctors, etc.) to oppose, even by making an objection of conscience, the ever more widespread attacks against life and the “culture of death” which underlies them.” (Page 7)

“[T]here is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;” (Summary Page 7)

“Such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.” (Summary Page 8.)

Nowhere in the document do they state it would be wrong to follow one’s conscience. In fact in the third reference above they use the word “upright” to describe the conscience of one who takes a stand against the culture of death. Further, they acknowledge as unjust the present coercion of conscience that exists for parents who rightfully wish to vaccinate their children but do not want to use vaccines associated with abortion.

In summary, we would hold that the right to follow one’s properly formed conscience, and here we stress “properly formed”, must be upheld.  Coercing such parents or imposing on them an obligation, which, they in their most intimate relationship with God find offensive to the Creator, is an injustice, especially to pro-life families who are simply trying to follow what the Church has taught them on the sanctity of life. These parents are not acting in a manner contrary to Church teaching or to the PAFL document which affords them the right to abstain under proper conditions, nor should they be punished or marginalized for doing so. Such a stand can also set a dangerous precedent.

The Catholic Church is under considerable attack in their health care facilities and insurance plans as pro-abortion advocates push to eliminate this right. Litigation and legislation efforts to deny conscience and force contraceptives prescriptions and abortion referrals are rampant in several states including NY, NJ, CA and IL. The motive behind the Culture of Death is clear: eliminate conscience rights and every doctor, nurse, pharmacist and hospital staff will be required to either cave in to their demands or leave their profession.  Most certainly, even an average attorney will use any instance of a Catholic institution, parish or diocese refusing to allow the rights of moral conscience for its own members against other Catholic institutions that are fighting to maintain the same rights.

And while we realize the degree of cooperation is different – one being more direct and the other being remote, who are we to judge what is sinful in a man’s own heart?  How can any authority, Catholic or civil make such a decision, especially when the Magisterium herself does not support it?

“God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.” (GS 28)

The Magisterium in her wonderful wisdom recognizes that in order to be truly free, in order to be at peace with God, in order to grow in holiness, man must never be denied this primordial right.  It is sacred and irrevocable and it must be protected, for without it, all other religious rights lose their deepest significance: the right to know God.

“On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. Acts of this kind cannot be commanded or forbidden by any merely human authority.” (The Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae – Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965)

 


[i] Pg 6, 7: “Therefore, doctors and fathers of families have a duty to take recourse to alternative vaccines13  (if they exist),  putting pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available. They should take recourse, if necessary, to the use of conscientious objection 14 with regard to the use of vaccines produced by means of cell lines of aborted human foetal origin. Equally,  they should oppose by all means  (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human foetus,  and requesting  rigorous legal control of the pharmaceutical industry producers.”