Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment (John 7:24)
Moral theologians play an important role in the Church as they help Church leaders and the lay faithful to apply Catholic moral principles in their decisions. Unfortunately, when controversy surrounds questions of public policy, and powerful political, media and business interests support one particular position, it is especially important for theologians to thoroughly and justly evaluate the arguments for and against that position. The recent writings of Fr. Matthew Schneider on COVID vaccine mandates exemplify the unbalanced and supercilious treatment that has been accorded to opponents of COVID vaccine mandates by many Catholic theologians. This article will demonstrate the need for an end to theological hit pieces that ignore or misrepresent the weighty arguments against the majority view, especially in matters of spiritual and physical life and death.
For the past year, Fr. Matthew Schneider has derided fellow Catholics for taking a moral stand against the big-pharma elites and “experts” who have persuaded most of our Church leaders to promote the use of experimental COVID vaccines. In his writings, Fr. Schneider has accused opponents of the use of abortion-tainted vaccines, inoculations, or pharmaceuticals of inconsistency by asserting that common over-the-counter (OTC) medications all used the HEK-293 aborted fetal cell line in their development. The myth that most common OTC medications were developed with aborted babies’ cells has been shown over and over to be false. And Father finally seems to have acknowledged his error. In fact, in one of his latest missives, he lashes out at his critics for asking for accuracy in his overblown statements regarding aborted fetal cell exploitation (or lack thereof) in the development of OTC drugs. “Even if you are right that I might have gone too far in this one tiny area,” Father complains to his critics, “you have not significantly affected the argument as it still has dozens of absurd conclusions.” In reality, Father’s “tiny area” is a very important point upon which his entire house-of-cards argument rests: It is a question of accurate identification of which (in fact, whether) OTC drugs were indeed developed with the use of cells of murdered babies.
When his parroting of the OTC myth was exposed as false, Fr. Schneider tried to split some semantical hairs with a condescending article in which he argued that fetal cells were not the same as baby parts. He writes: “The fetal cell line is remotely connected to the aborted fetus it came from, but it is definitely not a part of the aborted fetus.” Well, then, one might ask, where did the cell line come from? Whose DNA is in those cells, directing their continued growth and division? Despite how obvious the connection is between the baby who was aborted and the aborted fetal tissue used for research, Father simply reiterates “how astronomically remote the connection of COVID vaccines is with abortion.” Which leads us to the last refuge of those who counsel acceptance of COVID vaccines; the “remote material” argument. Now we already know that purveyors and promoters of abortion-tainted vaccines and pharmaceuticals (like Fr. Schneider) like to rely on the legend of “only one baby decades ago,” so trying to convince Father of the immorality of accepting these ill-gotten goods (called “partaking” in Catholic theology) may be in vain. Still, one is unable to find where Fr. Schneider has ever responded to the argument that by accepting these evil products we are an accessory to the perpetrators, and we contribute to the ongoing demand for continued butchery of babies violently cut from their mothers’ wombs, tortured, and then murdered. Father is silent on this matter.
Covaxin: “A vaccine we can all get behind?”
Having failed to address the arguments put forward against the use of abortion-tainted vaccines, Fr. Schneider has now launched a campaign to promote a new vaccine that purportedly has no connection whatsoever with the ghoulish fetal cell medical research. This new miracle drug is called Covaxin, and Fr. Schneider is concerned that Catholics who are (in his opinion) misled about the moral problems of abortion-tainted vaccines may now rest easier. Unfortunately, as we will demonstrate in this article, in his haste to dismiss the concerns of Catholics who remain skeptical about the benefits of Covaxin, Fr. Schneider has once again failed to make a serious evaluation of their arguments.
In an article on his personal website and also featured on LifeNews, Fr. Schneider tells us that Covaxin is “a vaccine that we can all get behind.” Indeed, Fr. Schneider now seems quite disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm for Covaxin on the part of those of us who have fought against the currently available experimental injections. Having “looked at sites that had published pieces supporting the idea Catholics might want to skip current COVID vaccines over the connection to fetal cell lines,” he was apparently “surprised by how little was written” on those websites regarding Covaxin. He just can’t understand why Catholics would not want to “get behind” this new product.
Instead of investigating the concerns of his fellow Catholics in regard to experimental vaccines, apart from their connection to abortion and fetal experimentation, Fr. Schneider appears to assume, without examination, that these concerns are groundless and that Catholics who object to the experimental vaccines on other grounds are being “dishonest” because no other legitimate reasons to oppose COVID vaccine mandates exist. Had Fr. Schneider made even a half-hearted effort to understand his fellow Catholics’ concerns about experimental COVID vaccines, he would, at a minimum, have read Pamela Acker’s work Vaccination: A Catholic Perspective with special attention to the sections on “Short Vaccine Development Timelines Result in Unsafe Vaccines” and “Coronavirus Vaccines: 17 Years of Failed Attempts.” Had he done so, Fr. Schneider would have discovered that conscientious Catholics have solid grounds for skepticism about the safety and efficacy of accelerated experimental COVID vaccines, even apart from their ties to fetal experimentation and abortion. For example, with regard to the dangers of accelerated vaccine development:
The HPV vaccine Gardasil® was fast-tracked by the FDA and approved in only six months. The approval occurred before adequate safety trials were conducted on the vaccine; post-licensure safety trials were later done in India on a cohort of approximately 30,000 tribal girls, aged 9 to 15, from two different locales. Six deaths were reported in conjunction with the vaccinations. Other serious adverse effects were detailed in an investigation done by a women’s rights group in India:
“Many of the vaccinated girls continue to suffer from stomachaches, headaches, giddiness and exhaustion. There have been reports of early onset of menstruation, heavy bleeding and severe menstrual cramps, extreme mood swings, irritability, and uneasiness following the vaccination. No systematic follow up or monitoring has been carried out by the vaccine providers.”
Various news sources report the rate of adverse events in the trials that were conducted in India from 1 in 133 individuals to 1 in 19. While these rates are likely higher than they would have been in the U.S. due to the poverty and nutritional deficiencies of many of the tribal girls in the post-licensure study, they are still alarming. From these reports alone, it seems quite clear that the vaccine should have been much more rigorously tested, and should not have been approved for mass administration so quickly. When these data are considered with the earlier discussion of the risks of infertility associated with the HPV vaccine, the case becomes even more clear that rapid vaccine development is imprudent and unsafe.
Another example of a vaccine that was rushed to production will lead us to similar conclusions, and this is the swine flu vaccine of 1976. The death of a young soldier at Fort Dix in February of 1976, followed by the isolation of a novel strain of swine flu circulating among the soldiers, prompted fears of a 1918-like pandemic. The response of the United States government was to initiate a campaign to vaccinate every US citizen; legislation pushing for vaccines was signed into effect in April.1 Vaccinations began on October 1st, despite the fact that there were no confirmed cases of swine flu – worldwide – beyond the handful at Fort Dix. Initial studies on candidate vaccines were promising enough for the campaign to move forward. However, a different vaccine formulation was used during the campaign from the one that had actually been field tested, according to the admission of Dr. David Sencer (then head of the CDC); this new formulation had not been tested in clinical trials. Dr. Michael Hattwick, who advised the CDC on safety issues with the 1976 campaign, had notified that office of the potential for neurological damage associated with the vaccine, but his warnings went unheeded.
The campaign was an unmitigated disaster:
“The Swine Flu Program was marred by a series of logistical problems ranging from the production of the wrong vaccine strain to a confrontation over liability protection to a temporal connection of the vaccine and a cluster of deaths among an elderly population in Pittsburgh. The most damning charge against the vaccination program was that the shots were correlated with an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with an obscure neurological disease known as Guillain–Barré syndrome [GBS]. The program was halted when the statistical increase was detected, but ultimately The New York Times labeled the program a “fiasco” because the feared pandemic never appeared.”
The dark history of coronavirus vaccines
Instead of acknowledging the horrendous health risks historically associated with “accelerated” vaccination development, Fr. Schneider acts as if these risks do not even exist. He similarly ignores the prudent warnings that Pamela Acker offered two years ago based on the history of failed attempts to develop vaccines against coronaviruses. According to Acker:
SARS was the first disease of international concern to be caused by a coronavirus. The virus spread from China in 2002, with a peak number of cases in 2003 (at which point SARS was labeled a pandemic). The first candidate for a vaccine against SARS-CoV began clinical trials in China in 2005. Fifteen years later, we are still without a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine for SARS-CoV. This point is simple, but it cannot be overlooked – it verges on insanity to think that a safe and effective vaccine can be developed for SARS-CoV-2 in less than a year when researchers have met with a decade and a half of failure working on vaccine candidates for a very similar virus.
Neither do we have a vaccine for MERS-CoV, another coronavirus that drew international attention after being isolated from a Saudi Arabian male who died of pneumonia in 2012. SARS has a case fatality rate of approximately 10%, while MERS has a case fatality of approximately 34%. The high case fatality rates of these viruses have certainly fueled a serious research and development plan for vaccine candidates for both SARS and MERS: a quick search on PubMed for academic articles relating to the development of vaccine candidates for these coronaviruses yields over 6,400 results from the last seventeen years.
In that time period, researchers have learned a number of valuable lessons about the nature of developing vaccines against coronaviruses. The use of the whole virus in an inactivated virus vaccine (which is generally considered the safest type of vaccine to develop on a short-term/large-scale basis) produced an unexpected result: a skewing of the immune response towards activation of a particular type of T cells, T helper 2 (Th2). This type of response can result in elevated levels of two types of innate immune cells in the blood (eosinophils, which are associated with allergies, and neutrophils); this elevation, in turn, drives an inflammatory response that can significantly damage the body. Eosinophils in particular can cause organ damage in the skin, heart, lungs, digestive tract, and nervous system when their levels are elevated. Researchers found that vaccinating ferrets and primates with the inactivated SARS-CoV vaccine candidates resulted in inflammatory pathology (disease) in the vaccinated animals, rather than effective clearance of the virus. One particular inactivated vaccine caused eosinophil levels in the lungs to rise significantly in vaccinated animals; this occurred after they had been challenged (infected) with the SARS-CoV virus. This eosinophilic infiltration may also have promoted allergic responses in some of the older animals.
In addition, some researchers found that the SARS-CoV vaccines actually enhanced the virulence of the disease when the test subjects were later challenged with an infection. This was mediated through antibodies to a particular segment to the SARS-CoV spike protein. Concerns regarding this “antibody dependent enhancement,” as it has been called, were raised in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) as early as April 2020, but were considered less important than the Th2 cell pathology just described.
It is also possible that the overall level of circulating antibody in the blood can determine whether a vaccine is protective against a disease or instead actually enhances the disease pathology. Lower levels of circulating SARS-CoV antibody, comparable to those likely to be produced during a mass vaccination campaign of the general population, were associated with increased infection by the virus.
Authors in Nature Reviews, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, noted these additional areas of concern about SARS-CoV vaccines:
- Animal models used for vaccine development are insufficient to study the kind of severe clinical response that is seen in humans who develop SARS. Thus, a candidate that is effective in animals may not be effective in humans, and vice versa.
- There is a poor response to the majority of vaccine candidates among the most vulnerable populations, those 65 years and older.
- Live attenuated vaccines carried a possibility of the vaccine strain mutating back to wild-type and becoming fully infective, which means that these vaccines could actually cause the person to contract the disease. This type of vaccine may also result in recombination with naturally circulating virus, which could generate a new strain of coronavirus with unknown infectivity. This second scenario is particularly troubling.
In addition to inactivated and live virus vaccines, there are a number of novel vaccine modalities that are being explored in the attempt to develop a vaccine both for SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. Viral vector vaccines, in which a non-pathogenic virus is engineered to carry DNA and/or proteins from a pathogenic virus, are among these novel platforms. When vaccines to SARS-CoV were developed using these vectors, protection against infection appeared to be incomplete, particularly in older individuals.31 DNA vaccine candidates, which are also among the current favorites for SARS-CoV-2 development, have not been tested using lethal-challenge models for other coronavirus vaccines, so there is limited to no data on how protective this type of vaccine might be in the event of a pandemic.
Experimental vaccine skeptics vindicated
Anyone who has followed the spectacular worldwide failure of the experimental COVID vaccines to halt the spread of the disease while producing an unprecedented number of harmful and even fatal side effects, can now see the wisdom of Pamela Acker’s warnings, but Fr. Schneider appears to be willfully ignorant of the facts upon which those warnings were based. What is worse, from the perspective of Catholic moral theology, Fr. Schneider has refused to devote any attention in his prolific writings on vaccination to a discussion of sins against the Fifth Commandment or sins against Prudence which conscientious Catholics are bound to avoid when making medical decisions.
Informed Catholics know that their bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost – we’ve been taught this since the days of our first catechesis. It is the reason that we do not experiment with drugs and we are careful about what we take into our bodies. It is a grave sin to assent to any type of experimentation on our bodies without reasonably high expectations that the treatment will be beneficial. Of course, this is not what we have seen with the current vaccine candidates being foisted on an unsuspecting but trusting public. Just a cursory check of the VAERS website will make it clear that this “cure” is worse than the sickness, and a very disturbing article on LifeSiteNews brings this terrible picture into focus.
Moreover, it is by no means clear that the risks detailed in VAERS are worth taking. As early as October 2021, the UK Health Security Agency acknowledged that vaccines do not appear to prevent infection or transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (based on the rate of confirmed cases per 100,000 persons). While they reported some protection against hospitalization and death after vaccination, they used misleading statistics that did not account for hospitalization and death in individuals who had received only one dose of vaccine. More tellingly, the same report clearly shows that antibodies to the spike protein began to wane in vaccinated individuals by July 2021, and were never comparable to the antibodies produced in individuals with natural infection. In particular, vaccinated people do not form antibodies against the nucleocapsid protein, which is a crucial part of the response during natural infection. In the long term, the vaccinated are far more susceptible to any mutations in the spike protein, even if they have already been infected and recovered. The unvaccinated, on the other hand, are far more likely to gain lasting, if not permanent, immunity to all strains of the alleged virus after being naturally infected. The point is: contrary to what Fr. Schneider would like us to believe, just because something is “authorized” or “approved” doesn’t mean it is really safe or effective.
Fifth Commandment concerns must be respected
Fr. Schneider wants to coerce those of us who reject abortion-tainted vaccines into accepting supposedly non-abortion-related vaccines like Covaxin. But the moral objections of Catholics were never solely tied to the pre-eminent scandal of vaccines and pharmaceuticals that have been either tested and developed with, or contain remnants of, cells from children cruelly torn from the wombs of their mothers. The grave matter of consenting to taking into our bodies experimental and rushed “solutions” – while not as commonly discussed as the abortion connection – is a major moral and ethical stumbling block as well. The most common religious exemption requests we have seen center on two kinds of sins against the Fifth Commandment: the acceptance of abortion-tainted vaccines and the unnecessary exposure of one’s body to improperly-tested vaccines which have been linked to serious harm to the immune system, to cardiovascular health, and to fertility.
What Fr. Schneider seems unwilling to acknowledge is that theological musings on his personal website may have far-reaching negative consequences, as in the case of the unfortunate Catholic Air Force officer who requested a religious exemption from DOD-mandated vaccines. This U.S. Air Force Academy graduate submitted her rationale based on Catholic moral teaching; but the exemption request was rejected by her base chaplain, who judged that she did not have a “sincerely held belief.” When this young officer asked on what grounds the request was rejected, her base chaplain explained that it was because she admitted that she used common OTC drugs.This young Catholic officer specifically asked the source or document backing up the chaplain’s claim, at which point the chaplain cited the blog of a certain “Father Matthew P. Schneider,” pointing the soon-to-be separated officer to Fr. Schneider’s “tiny area” article – the one in which he claimed that, to be consistent, Catholics who reject abortion-tainted vaccines would also have to avoid all OTC medications. In justice, we now call upon Fr. Schneider to contact that chaplain with a retraction of his false comparison between the testing of abortion-tainted Covid vaccines and OTC medications. Perhaps he can still prevent a miscarriage of justice and help that principled Catholic Air Force officer to save her job and continue serving her country.
Unlike traditional Thomistic theologians who take pains to represent their opponents’ views thoroughly and fairly before answering them, Fr. Schneider caricatures and demeans his opponents in an effort to bully them into submission. Having failed to persuade us to accept immoral vaccines, he now tries to make an end run around the issue of morally illicit vaccines and pharmaceuticals by making it appear that there are no other grounds for refusing to administer or to accept yet another experimental Covid vaccine. In the end, it comes down to this: whether the vaccine is derived in some way from murdered babies’ cells, or whether it is a physical danger to those taking it, Catholics have the right and the duty to refuse to cooperate in what they rightly judge to be sins against the Fifth Commandment.