Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, is often in the headlines for his relatively unyielding stance on COVID-19 vaccines, but he has been speaking out on the issue for for well over a year now, going back to when he wrote a letter dated April 23, 2020 to the Catholic faithful in his diocese.
“As the world battles the coronavirus and marches toward a vaccine or cure, the ugly culture of death is exposing itself in an even more serious way,” the controversial self-described “red-pilled” bishop wrote at the time.
Bishop Strickland, an episcopal outlier on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines, emphasized in his letter the Church’s defense of human life, quoting from John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, lamenting that the late pontiff’s pleas to build up a culture of life have gone unheeded.
The bishop also made an eye-opening claim that “many Christians” in our society are “too willing to allow an unborn child to be killed simply because they believe the unborn child’s death will somehow improve their lives.”
“Tragically, people are not aware of or have chosen to turn a blind eye to the advance in medical sciences which allow vaccines to be developed with the wholesale use of aborted children’s bodies,” he writes.
The bishop’s claims counter the guidance that has since been put out by the Pope Francis, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and not to mention several Catholic bio-ethicists and pro-life scholars who study these issues and are in a good position to explain the ins-and-outs of how these vaccines are produced and their ethical implications.
In short, Catholics can take the COVID-19 vaccines in good conscience, even if their manufacturers at some point in their development used stem cell lines derived from fetuses that were aborted or miscarried several decades ago. That’s called remote material cooperation, a classic principle in Catholic moral theology that recognizes our complicated, fallen world and informs us on how we can best navigate it.
Bishop Strickland made it sound like babies were being aborted to produce the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, but that is simply not the case. When he wrote in his letter that “there is no medical necessity for using aborted children” and when he warned about “the threat of new vaccines being developed and tested using aborted children,” the bishop was employing amazingly misleading rhetoric.
For what it’s worth, the bishop’s letter played well with far-right fringe outlets like Church Militant and Lifesite, where Bishop Strickland is often featured. It also must be noted that the bishop over the past year has spoken at an anti-vaxxer conference and signed a petition circulated by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio, that claimed the coronavirus pandemic was being exploited by shadowy global business interests to abolish true religion and usher in a one-world government. He has also continued to critically tweet about the vaccines, despite the above-mentioned guidance from other official Church sources.
To slaughter unborn children, then to put their tiny bodies up for sale, then to use our tax dollars to purchase the bodies of these unborn children for scientific research. These acts are of the devil. People of faith must protest vigorously, we must not turn a blind eye!
— Bishop J. Strickland (@Bishopoftyler) April 23, 2021
CORRECTION: This blog item was corrected to reflect the correct date of the pastoral letter’s publication. The letter was released in April 2020, not April 2021. I regret the error. – Brian