The Most Rev. William Medley, bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, has been advocating and encouraging all citizens to take one of the three COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer-BioTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s Janseen — that are being offered through their health care providers.
And during a phone interview on April 28, Medley said the Church has researched and reviewed the vaccinations to the extent that it and its clergy feel comfortable supporting inoculation.
“I understand there are people who may have scientific or medical reservations about this, and to them, I would say talk to your health care provider; I’m not a scientist nor am I a health care provider,” Medley said. “To those who have moral questions, I would simply say both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican have reviewed these and found that the vaccines are not just morally acceptable but also encourage people to receive the vaccine as an act of charity toward other people.”
Controversy has surrounded Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as questions surfaced about blood clotting after injections, and over its use of fetal cells during the production process.
On April 13, the distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was paused after six recipients reported a rare blood-clotting disorder. After further research, the Food and Drug Administration lifted the pause on Friday but added a warning label to the vaccine.
But even prior to the pause, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine received criticism for its use of fetal cells during its testing phase. The actual vaccine, however, does not contain fetal cells.
Medley said the Catholic Church, which has maintained a longstanding stance against abortion, has found no cause to reject the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“I have followed the counsel of those who have far more expertise in (the science) of that … and the moral theology and the ethical side of that,” Medley said. “And I would affirm that, while it is a complicated issue, the Church has looked at that and said in these given circumstances, in this time of a world pandemic, to take the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccination is acceptable and even morally advisable.”
And now as vaccinations have slowed because of fewer people signing up, Medley is making a plea for all to consider inoculation as a moral act that will help in gaining herd immunity, and move the state toward the 2.5 million vaccinations that Gov. Andy Beshear said are needed to fully reopen without restrictions.
As of Wednesday, the state reported more than 1.7 million people had received a vaccination.
So far, Medley said Masses have been open to anyone in the Diocese who wants to return as long as space is available under the current 60% capacity restriction.
“Our attendance has been growing since Easter,” Medley said. “So our churches have been hitting the limit. ...We’re certainly hoping with the advancement of the vaccine some of those guidelines and restrictions will be adapted further in the weeks ahead.”
Medley also reflected on the past year and how the pandemic affected the diocese.
“There’s nothing to compare it to — certainly in the lifetimes of people living today when the Church could not hold assembly,” Medley said. “So that’s just contradictory to what we say we are as Catholic. But it forced us to look at a worldwide pandemic and say, ‘How does the Church respond in collaboration with a larger society?’ ”
And out of the pandemic, many of the Catholic churches embraced technology that they were lacking prior to COVID-19.
Medley said live streaming Masses kept the Church connected to its parishioners when in-person gatherings were prohibited, and now it’s being used for those who have been physically unable to return to Mass.
“The churches investing in that technology has been a good thing and I’m assuming most will strive to continue that, particularity for the homebound who cannot come to church,” Medley said. “But at the same time, we’ll emphasize, when we can lift all the restrictions, the benefit and the blessing of coming and worshiping in-person together as a community.”
Medley added that whether or not the restrictions have been overboard it still reflects well when people of faith abide by them.
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299