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

Archdiocese of Denver

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: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.