September 27, 2021
In her National Catholic Reporter article “Catholics seeking ‘religious’ exemptions from vaccines must follow true church teaching on conscience”, M. Therese Lysaught, a professor of bioethics and a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, maintains that Catholics in good conscience MUST receive a COVID-19 vaccine. She provides a template for a “dialogue” with someone asking for an exemption. From the get go, she makes it clear that those who refuse to get vaccinated are egocentric, deficient in their understanding of what the healing ministry of Jesus requires, not committed to unity or the common good, without concern for the poor and vulnerable, and lacking in charity.
What a beginning! Lysaught doesn’t exactly exhibit the charitable practice of assuming the best motives on the part of one’s “dialogue” partner. Indeed, neither in the template nor in the essay written to accompany the document does Lysaught show the slightest interest in why Catholics or others might resist taking a COVID-19 vaccine. Clearly, they are just selfish dunderheads who don’t understand what is manifestly true for those in the know. In such a “dialogue” the dialogue partner could not get a word in edgewise. They have nothing to say of value.
Appeal to Authority
Lysaught’s argument is one based largely on an appeal to authority. She cites the “magisterial” documents issued by the Holy See and the USCCB, as well as remarks by Pope Francis. She claims that these statements “teach” that “Catholics have a moral responsibility to be vaccinated and to assist the global community in achieving vaccination levels sufficient for herd immunity.” None of these documents, however, have the degree of magisterial authority to require assent; they are all low-level documents or non-magisterial statements that cannot impose obligations on Catholics. While these sources do attempt to make a strong case that there is a “moral responsibility” to receive the vaccine, none speak of a moral obligation to do so. And, as we shall show, according to Catholic theology, they can’t do so.
Lysaught lists a Public Service Announcement which features Pope Francis, six Cardinals, and archbishops from North, Central, and South America. It was issued alongside another PSA featuring several past presidents and former first ladies. Does Lysaught truly believe that a PSA has magisterial authority? Does she think Catholics can be bamboozled so easily?