Unity and Good Will

09-12-2021Weekly ReflectionFr. Charlie Goraieb

Dear Friends,

Throughout His ministry, Jesus emphasized the importance of unity and good will among disciples. His last major teaching to them, the night before He was crucified, He prayed to the Father that “they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you”.

Our enemy, Satan, the Father of Lies, looks for any opportunity to sow dissension and disunity among the followers of the Lord, thus hoping to divide us from one another. Playing into the enemy’s strategy is the divisive issue regarding vaccination for Covid-19. Should we get vaccinated? Are we morally obliged to do so? Are the vaccines so morally compromised that, in good conscience, a faithful Catholic should refuse to be vaccinated? Is the vaccination the silver bullet that is going to finally bring this pandemic under control and allow us to return to life as normal (whatever that will look like?)?

You will find different answers to these and other questions, depending on your source of information. Our Church is not a scientific institution that is equipped to debate with the CDC or NIH on the issue of the efficacy of the vaccines or potential long-term benefit that comes from being vaccinated. Nor, on the other side of the coin, are we qualified to speak about the potential harmful side-effects of the vaccine.

Our area of expertise lies in the realm of morality, conscience, and religious freedom. Based on the best theological sources and our long-standing tradition of honoring the decisions of a well-formed conscience, Bishop Olmsted has issued a well-written, balanced letter to give guidance to our Diocese regarding the Church’s view on the vaccine. Here is a list of the major points he made in his letter:

  • Let us remember that it is always Christ who unites and heals us.
  • In good conscience, a Catholic can receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. While they did use aborted stem-cell tissues in the testing of their vaccines, unlike Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, they were not used in the manufacturing of the vaccines. Because of this remote connection, getting vaccinated with one of the first two does not constitute formal cooperation with moral evil.
  • Catholics are not morally obligated to receive the vaccine. This is the case despite what many secular (and even some Church) leaders are proclaiming. It has always been our teaching that if someone prayerfully discerns that they do not wish to receive the vaccine, they are morally free to refrain from doing so.
  • What is primary for us as individuals is to form our conscience through the teachings of the Church (see CCC ¶ 1778).
  • If you decide not to be vaccinated, you can inform your employers or other institutions pressuring you to do so that you have reached your decision based on your deeply held religious convictions. The Church cannot give you an exemption—that must come from your employer or the institution. What we can do is to provide you with an exemption letter template for you to present to them. It is, of course up to them if they will accept your request.
  • I (the Bishop) remind our Church leaders that it is not for us to make medical decisions for others but rather to support the right of faithful Catholics to come to a personal decision with the help of a well-formed conscience.
  • I (the Bishop) encourage our priests, deacons and lay leaders to offer pastoral guidance to our people in the formation of conscience, using solid resources like those of the CDF, the NCBC, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • Catholics will differ in their discernment, each considering his or her own conscience. Let us respect and support one another and allow Christ to unite us through His mercy and care.

This whole pandemic has created a host of unknowns that have left many confused, fearful and angry. But we must not allow this to cause division and ill will among our family members, friends and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I would also caution against taking in a large dosage of news coming from sources that are accustomed to inflaming people’s emotions for their own commercial reasons. I regularly look at the AZDH data dashboard that gives me the facts regarding the demographics of who are getting sick and who are dying. Seeing the numbers and percentages can be very helpful to gain some perspective.

In time, reliable data will emerge regarding many of the unknowns that this pandemic has created. In the meantime, we must make our decisions based on the best information available to us and assume the best intentions in others. This pandemic will pass, but our friendships and relationships to others will last for all eternity.

Praying for Peace and Unity among us all,
Fr Charlie Goraieb