Radio Show

Theologian Brett Salkeld on Vaccines and the Catholic Church


Guest host Fr. Stuart Wilson-Smith chats with theologian Brett Salkeld about how the Catholic Church’s relationship with vaccines has evolved over time, and the morality of the various COVID vaccines available today.

“There is established Catholic teaching on this that goes back a couple of decades when the Church was considering questions of childhood vaccines, particularly measles, mumps, rubella,” Salkeld says. “At that time, we used established principles of Catholic moral theology called cooperation with evil — You can never do evil that good may come out of it. That’s clear Catholic teaching, but we live in a messy world where other people do evil from which we may benefit, and/or to which we might contribute in some way or another. A classic example is if you vote for any policy that leads to any evil foreseen or unforeseen by any politician that you help elect, you’re cooperating in some way with that evil.”

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“Now, the Church says that sometimes this is just plain unavoidable. You’re going to vote for one politician or another, or you’ll vote for nobody which will let the worst person get elected uncontested. So you’re stuck. You’re cooperating with evil, whether you like it or not. But if you are going to be cooperating with evil, then you need to think is it justified. You vote to pursue a certain good, and receiving a vaccine is obviously pursuing a certain good. It’s for your own health and the health of your community, particularly the most vulnerable. It’s the way to end these lockdowns, which have economic and spiritual impacts. So you’re seeking real goods.”

“So the question is, does this kind of cooperation with evil justify or is it justified by seeking these certain goods? The Church has said the cooperation with evil here, if there is any, you can’t do anything to change it. The church said with MMR 15 years ago that the good of the health that is being sought for our children easily justifies receiving these if there’s no alternatives available to us.”

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Salkeld touches on the conversations around potential fetal cell lines used in vaccine development. “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were the first two that were produced and both of them are synthetic mRNA vaccines, which means there’s no question of cell lines being ethical. There are no cell lines in production. Whereas other ones like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have recourse to these cell lines. But the Vatican is very clear that the current circumstances justified their use in any case. Let’s say we have a marginalized population where people have no choice about which vaccine they’re going to receive. We don’t want to give them a guilt complex because they got the slightly less ethical vaccine, according to some very nuanced Catholic traditional moral theology when they’re both easily justifiable in any case. This has been some of the controversy in the media, wondering if some of these [vaccines] are better than others. Maybe depending how you calculate it, but is that what matters when you’re dealing with people who may not have a choice? No.” (Original Air 3-22-21)