Thanks to an American Catholic bishop, the pandemic gets a boost

November 20, 2020 • 9:00 am

I was going to say “the Catholic Church gives the pandemic a shot in the arm,” but that would have been confusing. Reader Bill sent me this link to the Los Angeles Times about a faith-soaked Catholic bishop (click on screenshot) who’s bad-mouthing coronavirus vaccines because they’re supposedly made using embryonic tissue from aborted fetuses or from surplus embryos used during in vitro fertilization (IVF) that are eventually discarded.

An excerpt:

Citing ethical concerns about the use of fetal cells in vaccine development, Bishop Joseph Brennan of the Diocese of Fresno is urging Catholics not to “jump on the COVID-19 vaccine bandwagon.”

In a video shared by the diocese this week, Brennan said that some of the researchers racing to produce a coronavirus vaccine have made use of cells derived from an aborted fetus, and perhaps other “morally objectionable” materials.

“I try to maintain a joyful spirit, so I don’t like to rain on anyone’s parade,” Brennan said. “But I’m going to rain on a parade today: the vaccine parade.”

In his message, Brennan said the use of fetal cells at any stage of a vaccine’s development means Catholics cannot avail themselves of its scientific results.

“I won’t be able to take a vaccine, brothers and sisters, and I encourage you not to, if it was developed with material from stem cells that were derived from a baby that was aborted, or material that was cast off from artificial insemination of a human embryo,” he said. “That’s morally unacceptable for us.”

. . . Brennan said he is not opposed to vaccines in general, and noted that he has received vaccines for the flu and pneumonia, but said he is specifically opposed to vaccines derived from babies “whose lives were taken.”

This is one example of the hypocrisy of Catholicism. Even if vaccines were made using fetal or embryonic tissue, that tissue would eventually be discarded. Why not use it to save lives? Further, even if you think that discarding unused IVF embryos, or aborting fetuses, is “murder,” there is no evidence that women will undergo these procedures in order to help create vaccines.  Bishop Brennan has a bizarre kind of calculus in which tissue already available cannot be used to save other lives. Note that he is in general expressing the position of the Catholic church, though I don’t think the Pope has yet weighed in on this.

But are the vaccines really made using this kind of tissue? Nope—not one mentioned by Brennan during his video homily:

He cited the Pfizer vaccine by name, which — along with another vaccine from Moderna — has been roundly celebrated as a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus.

Brennan did not explain why he singled out Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for criticism. There is no indication that it was developed using either fetal cells or human embryonic stem cells.

“Not a single stage has had it,” Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts said Thursday.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine candidates are made with a snippet of the coronavirus’ genetic code, and both are estimated to be roughly 95% effective.

You think the good bishop would have done his homework, for how many Catholics that heard his homily are going to check for themselves?

It is true that some vaccines are made using fetal tissue:

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, an antiabortion organization, has flagged five COVID-19 vaccine candidates that were developed with the help of fetal cells. One of them, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, is in late-stage testing. So is another developed by Johnson & Johnson.

If Catholics are worried about burning in hell if they take a vaccine developed this way, all they have to do is take the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. But I repeat: even if you equate abortion or unused IVF embryos as “murder”, what is the moral objection to using that tissue to save further lives? It’s not as if women get IVF and abortions for the purpose of creating vaccines, or get paid to do so. Those abortions or IVF procedures would take place with or without a vaccine being developed.

All I can say is that it’s a good thing that at least some vaccines are being developed without use of fetal or embryonic material, because otherwise pious Catholics wouldn’t be able to get vaccinated, and more people would die in the name of a senseless “morality”.

52 thoughts on “Thanks to an American Catholic bishop, the pandemic gets a boost

  1. I heard a rumor that they are making vaccines out of stupid Catholic bishops because there are so many of them. I could not confirm the rumor.

    1. Reminds me of the rumor I heard regarding the three reasons that experimental psychologists were replacing the white rats they ordinarily use with lawyers — first, there are more of them; second, you’re much less likely to get attached to lawyers; third, there are some things that, no matter the incentives, you can’t get a white rat to do. 🙂

  2. I’m okay with this, for realpolitik reasons.

    1. When these vaccines hit the market, there’s going to be massive demand which completely outstrips supply. If Catholics listen to this guy and don’t ask for the vaccine, that means my kid and family move up in the line.

    2. By the time doses are available to everyone, RCCers will be ignoring this guy and taking it.

    So, I see the net effect of this to be that more rational people get it earlier while there’s no overall drop in herd immunity.

    1. I doubt rank-and-file Roman Catholics are any more likely to listen to this bishop about vaccines than they are to listen to the Church about eschewing birth control.

      1. Indeed, and as the ex-husband of a Roman Catholic, I would like to offer my perspective. My experience was that keeping up public appearances of godliness is extremely important, but birth control isn’t, nor is eschewing it a big deal. More surprisingly, sexual relations outside of marriage are not morally objectionable, unless anyone finds out 🙂 …

  3. They really need to get to work on that vaccine for stupid. The Catholic priest still live in the 16th century when they and the Monarchs kept the people in complete ignorance. Those Catholics are real kidders.

  4. The Christian premise that nobody can know god’s plan in advance is at work here — especially given favorable outcomes, like saving lives in exchange for using embryonic tissue. I think it is particularly what grips a victim of religion in fact : the whole temptation by the devil. This ostensibly trivial nonsense illustrates precisely how strongly religion grips it’s victims.

    BTW: Still no way to “sub”..

  5. This is one example of the hypocrisy of Catholicism. Even if vaccines were made using fetal or embryonic tissue, that tissue would eventually be discarded. Why not use it to save lives? Further, even if you think that discarding unused IVF embryos, or aborting fetuses, is “murder,” there is no evidence that women will undergo these procedures in order to help create vaccines.

    Why should scientists kill innocent humans in the womb to help save lives? The eternal Lord Jesus Christ loves all his sheep (John 10:16).

    I pray that the Lord will grant you the strength of heart and clarity of mind to repent (Acts 3:19; John 10:28; Mark 1:15).

    The forces of evil work through the Godless liberals. Satan might have fooled some of God’s chosen but there lies hope (Ephesians 2:14). Accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

    1. I’m sorry, but you have no idea what you’re talking about. They aren’t killing babies to make vaccines, as I said TWICE. But apparently you are blinkered by your belief in unsubstantiated fairy tales (why is Christianity right and Islam “wrong”?), and so you can’t even read a simple post.

      I think you need to find another website.

  6. You can betcha that most catholics will treat the bishops turd polishing the same way they treat pronouncements on birth control, IVF, abortion and homosexuals, that is they will ignore it.

    Now they just need to stop giving those criminals any money.

  7. Although people India may or may not have a generally favourable attitude towards democracy, many do still behave as though they have a caste system, AFAIK.

    USians in very large numbers now seem to dislike democratic institutions (small ‘d’), judging from the behaviour of most Republicans even just since your election.

    Though outside US, Catholics will largely ignore that ‘bishop prick’–sorry I meant ‘bossman of that bishopric’, now to add to that anti-democratic stupidity, the US may need to add another India-style institution, something like a Caste System, for good reason in this instance.

    Catholics become the Untouchables.

    Then it could be renamed the Catholic Plague. The actual god(s), if any, must be something other than theirs.

    As far as renaming is concerned, recently another one of the many brilliant Fox geniuses (genei?) wants to call the vaccine the ‘Trump Vaccine’. Better would be renaming a different thing, to the ‘Trump Murder Virus’.

    Also Romney says it is hard to imagine worse behaviour than Trump’s since the election. That comment is well taken.

    However the essentially planned murder of something between ½ and ⅔ of the US victims of the virus by Trump and his administration, coming to at least ¼ million victims by sometime after Jan. 20, might just be regarded in history as rather worse, heading a long list of atrocious behaviour.

  8. And don’t forget that the Regeneron therapeutic treatment that Trump received used fetal cells. I don’t recall Trump, Pence, or any pro-life groups having any qualms about its use by the president.

      1. Nice try. While AIs are created by smart people, they’re generally controlled by strident people or ambitious people. Strident for military AIs, ambitious for business AIs – which I see as the two most important types.

  9. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are RNA vaccines which are purely synthetic; the RNA is synthesized by a machine. The RNA is delivered in a kind of lipid which is also synthesized. There were, however, many steps in the development and testing of the vaccine that required the use of human embryonic cells. In addition to what is required to develop and test, vaccines which use whole or parts of the virus use human embryonic cells in the production of the vaccine itself.

    One of the principle lines used in the industry, HEK293T (for Human Embryonic Kidney). They are used because they are human and are capable of producing enormous amount of virus. This line (there are others) was derived from a human fetus in the Netherlands in the early 1970s from a government program which made human tissue from a wide variety of sources available to researchers. The T in the name indicates that the cell line was immortalized by sv40 Large T Antigen, a protein from another virus – the Simian Virus 40, which causes infected cells to become immortal. It also makes them permissive for the purpose of virus production; these are the cells which produce the virus from which some vaccines are made. Neither the cells nor any of their parts are found in the vaccine itself; there are stringent purification methods to ensure that doesn’t happen (you can only imagine the amount of regulatory oversight is involved in drug formulation).

    1. grumble grumble. We get a “like” button in the New Improved WordPress but no “edit” button. Sorry for the mess – on my way out and typing fast

    2. Thanks for this info. These types of comments are very helpful for us non-life science people. I tried to read up a bit on mrna vaccines this morning and it seems that they pre emptively “hijack” the cell’s ribosomes to create virus imitating antigens to kick off an immune system activity that will later recognize an actual virus as non-self. Very clever..if i am close to right about that.

      1. You are exactly right, though the RNA doesn’t exactly “highjack” the ribosome. Think of the ribosome as a public service within the cell; it translates any RNA (in appropriate form) into proteins.

        The RNA in these viruses encode viral antigens which, based on the engineering in the vaccine, are expressed on the surface of the cell in the same form as would be found on the real virus. This “antigen presentation” happens in (almost) all our cells all the time. Our immune cells constantly surveil the antigen presentation landscape in us and any that have receptors which recognize the antigen blow a bugle and call in the troops.

        1. comment in edit – the antigens are “presented” on a specific kind of molecule called MHC (Major Histocompatability Complex – this one of the things transplant MDs try to match to prevent rejection). In this context – on the MHC – immune cells can be activated if their receptor matches the antigen.

          It’s a weirdly complicated and elegantly simple understanding at the same time.

          1. I like the image of ribosomes as a “public service”. Alternatively, I encountered a little clutch of Leftists at the U. of Sussex in the 70s who had a different analogy. They looked at the ribosomes as “the proletariat”, and DNA as the ruling class.

        2. Thanks for the confirmation edward. I only used the verb “hijack” because that is how a number of books and articles for the general reader describe what a virus does: it hijacks the cellular machinery…of course not just ribosomes…this is one thing i love about jerry’s weit: experts like you in so many areas. Tnx again.

  10. Disinformation campaigns are in this year. Trump has shown how they can be successful. In fact, general distrust of media stoked by Trump and his sycophants will certainly enhance the effectiveness of Bishop Brennan’s anti-vax campaign. Many in his flock will likely ignore the media articles which tell them fetal tissue wasn’t involved. Just more fake news. Ironically, religion practically invented fake news.

  11. To my knowledge none of the vaccines under development involves the use of fetal cells.

    OTOH, the Remdesivir and the monoclonal antibodies cocktail Donald Trump received while hospitalized following his COVID-19 diagnosis were both developed using cells derived from an aborted fetus.

    Seems to me the anti-abortion zealots in Trump’s base were conspicuously silent about that.

    Dear Leader lives by different rules than we mere mortals, I suppose.

    1. That’s no problem. Just part of that white privilege similar to paying off women for past affairs or looking for fraud in elections or cheating on taxes. The list is pretty long.

  12. Just curious: I missed a day or so earlier in the week (cataract surgery)What’s with the like and blue star? It’s looking more like my daughter’s FB page.

  13. Remember, the Catholic Church’s mission is to save souls, not lives. If they can do both, they will, but it is not essential to their purpose that anyone lives once they’ve had the appropriate sacraments. Has anyone ever written a story where the Church saves people, and then immediately kills them to make sure they stay in a state of grace?

    1. I can’t answer your question directly, but it reminds me of reading many years ago, perhaps from Bart Erhman, that suicide was not uncommon among the early Christians, because those who took their own lives were enthusiastically wishing to join Jesus in Paradise without delay. Later, after the Church Fathers saw the potential for their congregations to dwindle because of this, they made suicide a grave sin. After doing a quick and dirty Google search, I can’t find any substantive reference to back me up solidly. The strongest my search returned is this, which tantalizes me to reading this whole essay.
      Thinking about this also reminds me of the Heaven’s Gate Hale-Bopp suicide cult, not to mention Muslim suicide bombers.

  14. A conspiracist would say, “Follow the money.” Does the RCC own a big stake in Astra Zeneca, Moderna, or Johnson&Johnson, but not in Pfizer?

  15. “a bizarre kind of calculus” – is good way to describe the Church generally – where child rape is less serious than the reputation of the Church, God put cancer on Earth to teach us a lesson, dying in agony is good because it brings you closer to Jesus, etc.

  16. If you are interested in the Catholic view towards coronavirus, you probably ought to start with the Pope.

    ‘A potential coronavirus vaccine should be made available to all, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

    “It would be sad if, for the vaccine for COVID-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all,” Pope Francis said Aug. 19.’

  17. The 2 cell lines used for vaccines in the US are WI-38 (derived from the therapeutic abortion of a 3 month old fetus in the US in 1962) and MRC-5 (derived from a 14 week old fetus aborted in the UK in 1966).

    The UK uses mainly HEK-293 (derived from an abortion in 1972) and PER C6 (from a 1985 abortion).

    Other countries have other cell lines. Some COVID-19 vaccines are using human cell lines but others are using lines derived from insects, tobacco plants, and hamsters (IIRC).

    So there will be options even for the most picky antivaxxers (pro-plaguers) out there.
    (With the possible exception for Vegan based feeling about horse shoe crab blood use)

  18. The presence of fetal cells at Pfizer is a red herring. Bishop Brennan is simply following a venerable religious tradition to prohibit any knowledge from outside approved doctrinal sources. The Church’s Index of prohibited books included the first great zoological encyclopedia after Aristotle, Conrad Gessner’s 16th century Historia Animalium. [We are lucky that the New England Journal of Medicine isn’t on the Index.] The Index may have been dropped in 1966, but Bishop Brennan undoubtedly still keeps it firmly in mind.

  19. I’ve been offline for several weeks and this is the first post I’ve read for some time. As usual, Jerry makes sense and those who’ve already had their reason hijacked by religion make fools of themselves. I find it so annoying that people like this bishop are in a position to influence people.

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