As we all know, Twitter is a cesspool of the obtuse, the oblivious, and the opinionated. Nothing brings out this unfortunate trifecta more than a blindingly obvious statement of fact. Recently, I tweeted through the Crisis Magazine twitter account: “Vaccine Mandates are contrary to Catholic moral teaching.”
Vaccine mandates are contrary to Catholic moral teaching.
— Crisis Magazine (@CrisisMag) September 1, 2021
Based on the reaction, you’d think I suggested hanging puppies or that men can’t get pregnant. Liberal Catholic luminaries Massimo Faggioli and Fr. James Martin were quick to condemn the tweet (and when Fr. Martin condemns a tweet, you can be sure his hordes of woke followers will follow with their inane comments). And of course creepy vaxx-pusher Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC was quick to jump in. What was amazing about the reaction was how ignorant (yet confident) most of the comments were.
A common reply was the implication that I tweeted “Vaccines are contrary to Catholic moral teaching”—people seemed to think that being against vaccine mandates means one is against vaccines. Here at Crisis we’ve made clear the many moral issues with the current crop of COVID-19 vaccines, but we’ve never been categorically anti-vaccine.
Modern people tend to believe that if something is good, then it’s also good to mandate it. That attitude, however, is contrary to Catholic moral teaching, which is solidly founded upon the acceptance of human free will. Freedom is a fundamental moral principle. If someone does something that is an objectively wrong act, but is forced to do it, that mitigates and possibly even removes the sinfulness of the action. Likewise, if someone is forced to do something good, that also mitigates its moral goodness. Without freedom, there is no morality.
A mandate, by its very nature, restricts human freedom, and there are many types of mandates, including morally good mandates (a parent, for example, can and should mandate many things to his children). But when it comes to choices that involve prudential decisions, mandates are rarely, if ever, moral. This involves mandates coming from the State or private enterprises. While a State can put the threat of sanctioned violence behind its mandates, the university which mandates the vaccine in order to attend or employer who makes the vaccine a requirement for employment still violate human freedom.
Other defenders of vaccine mandates noted that Catholic leaders have mandated vaccines in the past. For example, many Catholic schools, often following state laws, have for years required certain vaccines for their students. However, these almost always grant religious or conscience exemptions, and we should all know that the decisions of the local Catholic school don’t define Catholic teaching (thank God).
However it’s not just Catholic schools but even popes who have pushed vaccines in the past. Fr. Schneider noted that previous popes urged vaccines within their political realms: Pius VII in 1822 offered incentives to encourage inoculation with the Smallpox Vaccine in his States, and in 1848 Pius IX gave out cash prizes for those who were vaccinated against Smallpox.
This is an argument that only a papolater would love. First, the personal actions of popes, even saintly ones, do not define Catholic moral teachings. Popes are not sinless, and their actions as political leaders are not part of magisterial teachings. Further, in neither case were vaccines mandated. They were encouraged and incentivized, but not forced. (And this doesn’t even address the very real issue of the morality of abortion-tainted vaccines, as opposed to something like the Smallpox vaccine.)
The most common objection of the mandate promoters was unsurprising: Pope Francis says vaccine mandates are okay. This was played like a trump card: Roma locuta, causa finita est. Yet this argument has two problems. First, the personal statements of a pope are not magisterial, and second, Francis hasn’t even said this.
What the pope did say was that he believed that getting the COVID vaccine was an ethical option, and he urged people to get it: “I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine.” Although President Biden later claimed the pope said it was a “moral obligation,” that’s not what he said. One can argue with whether Francis is right to push the vaccine, but he did not give support for vaccine mandates.
So what does the Church actually teach about vaccine mandates, including COVID-19 vaccine mandates? In the most recent official statement from the Vatican in December 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explicitly states, “Practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
It is not a moral obligation. It must be voluntary. Pretty clear-cut, no?
It’s also interesting that the CDF statement simply says that “practical reason makes evident” that vaccine mandates are wrong. In other words, this is part of the natural law of who we are as human beings: we are free to refuse a medical injection if we, through our use of reason, decide it is not best for us or the common good. It is simply common sense, the Vatican is saying.
Yet of course common sense isn’t so common on Twitter. Which is why basic statements like “vaccine mandates are contrary to Catholic moral teaching” receive such resistance. While some of the resistance is fostered by the fear and panic pushed by our political and media Elites and is thus at least understandable, the rejection of this basic moral principle by Catholics who should know better reveals a rejection of the natural law in favor of unnatural ideologies.
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