A letter to the faithful from the Colorado bishops on COVID-19 vaccines

The bishops of Colorado affirm that the use of some COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable under certain circumstances. The development and utilization of vaccines to eradicate certain infectious diseases is a remarkable advancement in medical technology. The Catholic Church supports the morally legitimate development of vaccines to eliminate suffering and to promote human dignity and the common good. Considering the worldwide impact of COVID-19, vaccines for this virus seem to be especially necessary and urgent.

At the same time, we must remember that a good end cannot justify evil means. Vaccines need to be developed according to ethical criteria. Human cell lines that come from aborted fetuses should not be used in the design, development, production, or lab testing of vaccines. The development of vaccines and other medicines using aborted fetal cells is ethically unacceptable. It offends the dignity of the preborn aborted baby and his or her family, as well as the dignity of the medical vocations of doctors and scientists. We affirm the Church’s teaching that “the corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings.” 1 The ethical problems with regard to “cooperation in evil” are important to consider in accepting or promoting any vaccine.2 

The Catholic Church teaches that it is morally permissible to seek and receive a vaccine that has not been ethically developed, when there are no other alternatives and there is a serious risk to one’s health, and provided that any immoral cooperation with evil is excluded.3 The Pontifical Academy for Life states that “all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and… the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.” 4 In the case of a global pandemic, the Catholic commitment to promoting the common good includes considering the health and safety of others. However, if individuals have serious moral objections or health concerns about vaccines, those concerns should be respected by society and government, and those individuals should not be forced into vaccination, contrary to their conscience. The government should not impose the COVID-19 vaccines on its citizens.

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many countries to expedite the development of a vaccine. Several different vaccines have been created in an ethical manner, while others have unethically used aborted fetal cells in their design, development, production and confirmatory lab tests. The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a national pro-life research nonprofit, has provided a helpful list of all vaccines being developed, indicating which are morally compromised. We encourage our community to review that list.5 

Because of medical advancements, the development of vaccines no longer requires the use of human cells. Many vaccines are now created using no cells, or cells from animals, insects, chicken eggs, or yeast. In the case of COVID-19, eight vaccines were developed by the United States’ “Operation Warp Speed” and six of those vaccines do not use aborted fetal cells, including vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that will soon be available.

In the case of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, their use is morally acceptable since neither company used fetal cell lines from an aborted baby at any level of design, development, or production. However, we must also acknowledge that these two vaccine options are not untouched by abortion, as both relied on fetal cells from an aborted baby for one of the confirmatory lab tests. In our current circumstances, when better options are not available, the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remains a morally valid option. On the other hand, vaccines such as AstraZeneca-Oxford use aborted fetal lines in design, development, production, and testing, and therefore are not a morally valid option because better options are available. 

Catholics have the duty to use vaccines that respect human life, when they are available. We are thankful that many of the companies and countries working to protect human life and health from COVID-19 are also considering the ethical development and trials of their vaccines. 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo

Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan
Bishop of Colorado Springs

Most Reverend Jorge Rodriguez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver


1 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Replies to Certain Questions of the Day,” accessed December 7, 2020, Vatican.va, 1:4.  

2 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions,” accessed December 7, 2020, Vatican.va, 32.

3 “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses,” Pontifical Academy for Life, June 2005.

4 “Note on Italian Vaccine Issue,” Pontifical Academy for Life, July 31, 2017. 

5 See the chart provided by the Charlotte Lozier Institute: COVID-19-Vaccine-Candidates-and-Abortion-Derived- Cell-Lines.pdf (pcdn.co), accessed December 11, 2020: https://s27589.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/COVID-19-Vaccine-Candidates-and-Abortion-Derived-Cell-Lines.pdf

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”