The Catholic Vaccination Dilemma


The debate rears its ugly head even in the safest of places.

A mom posts in my local homeschool group that her family is going through pertussis – all of them – including her vaccinated husband and vaccinated public school child. First there are posts back showing support and advice on how to soldier through with a household of sick children. Then the accusation, “Weren’t your children vaccinated?”

My finger hovers over my mouse, strategically positioned between the delete and the moderation button.  This is the type of discussion that can get heated quickly, and the relationships and camaraderie of this group of woman could be broken with one harsh word or a misinterpretation of intentions.

What breaks the camels back and causes me to hit delete and then quickly put us into moderation mode was a comment like this. “The Pope says that everyone should vaccinate their kids for the common good and it’s a sin not to vaccinate.”

Nothing is going to kill off a Catholic support group faster than a decree from the pope!

The thing is – it wasn’t the pope.

But let me start back at the beginning.

In 2001, Arkansas mother, Shannon Law, was faced with making a decision – have her kids vaccinated with vaccines from aborted fetal cell lines, or get kicked out of school.  She opted to call the Vatican!

As the deadline for getting the vaccinations approached, Shannon knew she could wait no longer.  She picked up the phone and called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican and spoke to Msgr. Charles Brown who assured her he would look into the matter at once. As she awaited a response that would surely take more time than the school would allow, she then contacted American Life League and Children of God for Life.  Within hours, Children of God for Life contacted Msgr. Brown, who upon learning the problem was not confined to only Mrs. Law, requested a package of information to be sent to His Eminence Josef Cardinal Ratzinger.  Meanwhile Msgr. Brown’s instruction was clear: all Catholics should be instructed to use the Church teaching on Moral Conscience while the Vatican reviewed the issue.  Further, he warned that, “To turn away from one’s conscience would be a grave error.”

In 2005 Mrs. Debra Vinnedge wrote a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).  She asked for the church to make a strong statement against vaccinations made from the cell lines of aborted fetuses so that Catholic parents could exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations when attending school.

Her letter was passed on to The Pontifical Academy for Life and she received a reply from Bishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

OK so just to be clear, there was no such statement from Benedict XVI or Francis I.  The pope isn’t saying your kids need to be vaccinated or that they shouldn’t be vaccinated!  You can read the entire response here.

Later that year, Msr. Jacques Suaudeau of the Pontifical Academy for the Family clarified the Vatican statement.

“1) The document as such supports the position of Children of God [for Life]. It denounces the use of “tainted” vaccines, it asks for alternative vaccines; it invites (the document speak about a “duty”, which is a pretty strong word) parents (and others) to put pressure on government and companies to offer alternative vaccines. The document speaks clearly about “conscientious objection”(p.7). This was the main point of the document.  As such I do think that Children of God [for Life]have there a useful instrument to put pressure on local authorities in order to get exemption of vaccination for their children, in schools. But more important is the lobbying to get the alternative vaccines free entrance in the U.S.”

“2) The restriction formula about the possible use of tainted vaccines in conditions “of considerable dangers”(p.7) was needed: in fact we had problems with local (Italian) journals using titles like that: “Vatican forbid vaccinations”.

It seems to me that the Vatican encourages drug makers to manufacture licit vaccines and I think you could even take it to mean that they think that drug makers are headed in that direction.

But are they?

Apparently not.  The chicken pox vaccine came out in 2006 and some flu shots comes from aborted fetal cell lines. Clearly big pharma isn’t that anxious to get out of the profitable fetal cell line business.

But what does this mean to the average Catholic parent?  How can we protect our children and keep the faith?

Well no one said it would be easy.  The Vatican documents were clear that parents were to follow their consciences but also that their consciences should be well formed.  When it comes to vaccines it’s important to know

  • Why is this vaccine being given to my child?
  • Is there a morally licit alternative? 
  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • What are the long-range consequences? 
  • How effective is the vaccine?
  • How long will the immunity last?
  • If my child got the disease instead can it be treated effectively?

After getting that information and prayerfully considering the information, it may be morally licit to get the vaccinations.  But a parents who forms their consciences otherwise could also be making a morally licit decision.

and remember – even professional theologians disagree on this!

Copyright 2014 Elena LaVictoire


About Author

Elena LaVictoire has been married to her high school sweet heart for over 30 years. They have six children (from 26 to 10) who were all homeschooled. When she's not homeschooling or playing with her 2-year-old granddaughter, she blogs regularly about her issues and events that affect her family at


  1. Thank you so much for this informative article. I’m embarrassed to say I had NO IDEA some vaccines were being made with aborted fetal tissue. I’m thankful to say my children are grown so I no longer need to justify my family’s non-vaccinating decisions nor suffer the condescending lectures of public school officials over those decisions. I am passing this article on to my 3 “kids” tho, to help equip them for the future.


    Some very important considerations are missing in your post:

    How does my refusal to vaccinate impact others, especially the weakest and most vulnerable among us?

    For instance, a pregnant woman in her first trimester who contracts mumps has a 27% chance of losing her baby due to the disease. What about people with Down Syndrome, like my friend’s new baby and my goddaughter’s son, who have a less robust immune system? Or people fighting cancer? Or organ transplant recipients? Or otherwise medically fragile people who can’t get vaccines? Or children under the age of four, who haven’t been fully vaccinated yet even on the recommended schedule? They all depend on us NOT to have these diseases.

    These diseases are no joke. Among my family and friends: a boy of five who died of diphtheria; a friend who lost a daughter, the only child she had, to meningitis in less than 24 hours when the girl was in college; a relative who contracted polio and suffered from Post Polio Syndrome for the rest of his life and died an agonizing death due to its complications.

    In 2010, there were ten babies in my state who died of whooping cough. Earlier this year, a baby in the neighboring county died of whooping cough.

    My doctor is a devout Catholic from China (by devout i mean supported us in NFP and promoted NFP in the secular HMO where he worked). He says people in the U.S. don’t understand how important these vaccines are because they don’t grow up seeing the effects of them. He says when you see people paralyzed by polio dragging themselves along the road, you don’t mess around with these diseases.

    In modern terms, look at Ebola and the havoc it has wrought in Africa. Ebola isn’t nearly as contagious as the measles, which is airborne and can linger in a room for hours after an infected person has left. Measles epidemics used to bring terror and death every 2-3 years, killing about 2.6 million per year. This was just in the 1960s, before the vaccine.

    If we are pro-life (which i certainly am, no exceptions, conception to natural death), then we also must realize our responsibility to protect the vulnerable from preventable disease. As thr Pontifical Academy for Life stated in the 2005 document response to this issue, in footnote 15, if we refuse to vaccinate, and a woman’s unborn baby is harmed or killed due to a disease we helped spread, we are morally responsible for that. If doctors counsel a woman to abort her baby who, for example, was maimed by rubella in utero, we share culpability for that abortion.

    Please examine ALL of the moral implications of failing to vaccinate, not just the ones that affect you directly. We are Catholic, we are called to love our neighbors.

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