Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(4) November 2021


Healing Divisions: A Case for Tolerance and Diversity Within the Catholic Church

Dr Pravin Thevathasan

Author: Pravin ThevathasanJudging by the emails I am receiving, the Covid vaccine debate will not be going away for some time. I will now make my "vive la difference” case. In doing so, I accept a certain departure from the opinions of some CMA members whom I respect greatly.

Some of my patients died as a result of Covid. I take the issue seriously. I do not believe that having the vaccine is intrinsically evil.

That said, I cannot help but notice a trend: liberal Catholics have no problems with the ethics of having the vaccine. Indeed prelates who are very liberal on moral issues in general seem to be very rigid and dogmatic when it comes to this one issue: people must have the vaccine. It is the only Christian thing to do. So they proclaim.

On the other side, Catholics who follow the teachings of the Church fully are divided. A year ago, the divisions led to outright hostility, with certain pro-life groups claiming that having the vaccine could never be justified. Unfortunately, they ran headlines about vaccine promoters dying soon after having the vaccine. On the other side, there was obvious gloating when a well known traditional-leaning prelate was put on a ventilator after getting Covid.

Whatever happened to sins against charity? And not only on this issue. In the early nineties, I re­member talking to someone who claimed to be a pro-life leader. He told me that he refused to talk to pro-abortionists in a respectful way because they are "baby-killers." With friends like these

I believe that we need to treat those who have a different opinion from us about the vaccine with respect. Unlike abortion, I believe the Catholic Church is big enough to have people of different views on this issue. I am not a situation ethicist but I believe that individual circumstances need to be taken into account on this issue. I accept that in certain professions, employers and even govern­ments will want people to be vaccinated. But as a general principle, I am entirely against mandatory vaccination.

Back in 2003, the great Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, then-President of the once flourishing Pontifical Academy for Life, stated that it is not unlawful to make use of unethically sourced vaccines in grave situations when lives are at risk. He also added that there is a "grave responsibility" placed on us to demand ethical alternatives. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of vaccination. The Catholic Church has not favoured mandatory vaccination programmes.

We need to heal divisions among fully believing Catholics. Pope Francis has apparently helped by issuing a motu proprio recently. Admittedly it was on the liturgy, but it has had the fortunate (and unintended) effect of uniting us.

Vive la difference. There are times when the case for "my body, my choice" really does apply.