When Catholics disagree with each other…
The Vaccine Controversy:
A Presentation of Two Sides
We live in times that are evil, bizarre, and confusing. Few people reading this blog will dispute this. What makes matters incredibly more difficult is not having a Pope to provide authoritative guidance, especially for issues that affect every single Catholic in one way or another. The decades-long state of sede vacante in the Church is a tremendous cross for Catholics to bear.
As many of our readers may know — and many may not — is that a disagreement has recently become public between two sedevacantist bishops, His Excellencies Daniel Dolan and Donald Sanborn, with regard to the so-called vaccines for COVID-19 (commonly called “Coronavirus”).
It is general Novus Ordo Watch policy not to take sides with regard to theological issues that are disputed among sedevacantists and to avoid drawing attention to them, to the extent that this is possible and practical, in order to avoid needless confusion and potential passive scandal.
Since the subject matter of the current dispute is extremely important and serious, however, and because it affects every Catholic not just in theory but in practice, we will not ignore the disagreement here but will instead present the arguments set forth by each side. At the end of the day, dear reader, you must decide what to think and do about these controversial injections.
No, this is not subjectivism. No one is saying you can have your own personal moral standard of choice and adhere to that instead of God’s Law and the guidance of the Church on moral issues before Vatican II. Rather, the situation is such that the moral principles themselves are clear but their application is difficult and controversial because there is disagreement about what the facts concerning the injections and their consequences really are and how the moral principles should be applied to them, especially when there are other pressing factors to take into consideration, such as the possibility of losing custody of one’s children, the inability to earn a living, serious risk to health from vaccine side effects, etc. In addition, there are legitimate questions concerning the suppression of empirical findings and other data that runs contrary to the mainstream “narrative”, for example, by means of censorship, marginalization, etc. The credibility and trustworthiness of individuals recognized as medical authorities must likewise be assessed, also in light of potential undue influence from the pharmaceutical lobby or other pressure groups.
All of these factors complicate matters and leave room for (at least some) disagreement.
It helps to keep in mind that disputes about how to apply moral principles to concrete cases is not uncommon or unusual. In fact, the Church has an entire science for it, called “casuistry”. Attwater’s 1958 Catholic Dictionary calls casuistry “[t]he science of applied moral theology”. The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia defines casuistry as:
The application of general principles of morality to definite and concrete cases of human activity, for the purpose, primarily, of determining what one ought to do, or ought not to do, or what one may do or leave undone as one pleases; and for the purpose, secondarily, of deciding whether and to what extent guilt or immunity from guilt follows on an action already posited.
Therefore, people should not be scandalized by the fact that different Catholic clerics sometimes come to different conclusions about the morality of such things as taking a particular injection.
Here, then, are the two main articles laying out the respective arguments. Please note that Fr. Stephen McKenna works under Bp. Dolan and represents his side:
Vaccine Controversy, Round 1
- “Questions and Answers concerning the Vaccine” (Bp. Donald Sanborn / Nov. 2021)
- “Going Jab for Jab: A Defense for Rejecting the Covid-19 Injections” (Fr. Stephen McKenna / Dec. 5, 2021)
Should further rebuttals or developments be forthcoming in this ongoing dispute, we will post them here as “Round 2”, “Round 3”, etc. We recommend that interested readers bookmark this page so they can easily return to this discussion in the future.
- Pope Pius XII on the Moral Limits of Medical Treatment and Experimentation
- The Morality of Vaccination: Are Traditional Catholics permitted to take Shots? (Dec. 6, 2020)
- The COVID Crisis: Advice for Traditional Catholics from Fr. McKenna and Dr. Stanislowski (Mar. 4, 2021)
Oftentimes people do not understand or appreciate the true complexity of moral issues like the present one. They may not even know how to frame the actual issue under discussion correctly. Some folks tend to rush to judgment; they assume or infer things incorrectly, draw unwarranted conclusions, and then get all bent out of shape over something that was neither said nor implied by the person they are arguing with.
One of the things that can cloud someone’s judgment when it comes to moral matters is that sometimes an issue is indirectly connected with horrific evils that justly evoke visceral reactions. Yet, even in those cases reason and Faith must prevail over emotion in order to avoid making mistakes in the analysis. People can easily mistake a theologian’s dispassionate discussion of grave immorality with tepidity (lukewarmness), but such a judgment would be terribly unjust. Moral theologians must be able to talk about the most revolting things as if they were describing the parts of a vacuum cleaner.
An excellent resource for the Church’s traditional moral doctrine is the 2-volume compendium Moral Theology: A Complete Course Based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Best Modern Authorities by the Dominican Fathers John McHugh and Charles Callan (imprimatur 1958). The full text of both volumes is available for free online at Project Gutenberg. People interested in printed copies may obtain them here:
- Moral Theology (Volume 1)
- Moral Theology (Volume 2)
(full disclosure: purchasing either volume through the above links benefits Novus Ordo Watch financially)
The topic of cooperation in another’s sin is of particular relevance in the present controversy because in many cases the substance injected has been derived in gruesomely immoral ways. McHugh and Callan discuss this in volume 1, nn. 1506-1544. However, note that neither Bp. Sanborn nor Bp. Dolan’s side makes the morality of receiving the shot dependent on that particular issue because both are in agreement that sufficient reason can exist (in principle) that would render such so-called “remote material cooperation” permissible.
In addition to the moral law, a Catholic must also inform himself as much as he reasonably can about the vaccines, what is contained in them, and what (desirable and undesirable) consequences they will or may have. In that regard, it is advisable not to use merely one or two sources but many diverse sources, both those one is inclined to agree with anyway but also those that provide an opposing viewpoint. This is not an endorsement of relativism, it is merely meant to ensure that one’s research is not one-sided but as objective and fully informed as possible.
No, Novus Ordo Watch cannot do this for you. We are not a one-stop-shop for all things Catholic. As noted in our mission statement, we focus mostly on demonstrating and expounding how the Vatican II religion differs from genuine Roman Catholicism (the “pre-Vatican II religion”, if you will). We do not pretend to provide spiritual or theological guidance for every conceivable issue a Catholic may encounter.
Some people labor under the impression that in any moral case, the Catholic view, i.e. the correct view, is always and necessarily the strictest possible one. That is not so. The Church condemns laxism but she also condemns rigorism; she rejects Lutheranism as much as Jansenism; she rebukes cowardice as well as foolhardiness.
The Catholic’s obligation is simply to adhere to the official teaching of the Church, regardless of his personal preferences or inclinations. That is why Christ gave us the Church: to correct us where we would otherwise go astray, so that “we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:14). To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, we don’t need a Church to tell us we’re wrong where we know we’re wrong, we need a Church to tell us we’re wrong where we think we’re right. Only a fool would substitute his own dim lights for the guidance of the Church founded by Him who is the Light of the world (see Jn 8:12; cf. Jn 1:5)!
It is understandable that people are scandalized or discouraged by such a public disagreement among sedevacantist clergy. However, there is no need for despondency. The following article will be a great consolation to all who need some encouragement in our distressing ecclesial situation. It explains why an accidental lack of unity among sedevacantists on certain issues is not something to lose sleep over, much less the Faith:
The combox below this post is open for discussion for 30 days from the date of publication (Dec. 9, 2021). We ask all who participate in discussing this to please be respectful of other participants and not to rush to unwarranted conclusions, especially not concerning others’ motives or intentions. Some people have the nasty habit of assuming bad faith or ill will in those who disagree with them.
In a controversy of such great magnitude and seriousness as the present one, we must bear with one another charitably. Those who are on the stricter side will be tempted to see their opponents as lax, compromisers, liberals, relativists, and worse. Those on the more permissive side will be tempted to see their opponents as scrupulous, moralistic, legalistic, self-righteous, etc.
Let us keep in mind the exhortations and admonitions given by Our Lord Himself with regard to how to treat our brothers:
But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Judge not, that you may not be judged, for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.
(Matthew 5:22; 7:1-2)
These admonitions do not preclude all judgment, of course, but rash judgment, as well as rash suspicion. It is unjust to attribute to fellow-Catholics we disagree with, evil motives, moral laxity, rigorism, self-righteousness, etc., without compelling evidence that cannot reasonably be explained any other way. We are to err on the side of excusing the faults we see in others, not on the side of finding fault. Let a simple rule of thumb guide the combox discussion: Before denouncing a fellow-Catholic as an immoral monster, assume that he is simply sincerely mistaken. And consider, moreover, that perhaps the one who is sincerely mistaken is you (yes, you!). If both sides observe that reasonable rule, it may just happen that even a passionate exchange of arguments will yield good fruits.
All this can be summed up nicely in the famous maxim attributed to St. Augustine: “In essential things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Important Disclaimer: Novus Ordo Watch is not encouraging anyone either to take or refrain from taking any particular vaccine or other injection, whether for COVID-19, the flu, or any other disease or condition. Novus Ordo Watch explicitly disclaims any and all liability that may arise from the use or non-use of such injections. Our intent is merely to inform the public about the issues discussed in this post so that Catholics can form their consciences in accord with facts, reason, and the rule of Faith. All medical and socio-political claims and personal opinions expressed in the content linked from this post are the views of the people articulating them and not necessarily those of Novus Ordo Watch.
Image source: shutterstock.com (Mongkolchon Akesin; modified)