Antivaccines in the name of God

Certain Church figures, supported by the far right, campaign against immunisation

3 min
A priest during a Mass in Rome, in an archive image

Rome"Getting vaccinated is an act of love", Pope Francis recently said in a message to Latin America, in which he invited people to get vaccinated against coronavirus in the "hope" of being able to "end the pandemic". It was not the first time the pontiff had called for a vaccine to fight covid-19, but even he has failed to convince many members of the Catholic Church. It is a very noisy minority, encouraged by the far right against the health passport and the compulsory nature of the vaccine, which from the pulpit of a parish or from the anonymity of social networks launch slogans against immunisation and contribute to spreading dangerous hoaxes.

This is the case of Don Pietro Cutuli, a priest from Calabria who claimed that behind vaccines was the hand of Satan. This is not an isolated case. The parishioners of a parish in Monterosso, in Liguria, found this summer leaflets posted at the entrance of the church that minimised the consequences of contracting the virus. Other priests, such as a parish priest in a village in the province of Udine, expressed his distrust of vaccines on social media rather than in the parish, but he did so with such verve that it perplexed his parishioners. "We've been lied to from the beginning", he claimed in a post written on Facebook.

Six nuns from a convent in Padua, in the north of the country, also used social networks to soak up conspiracy theories. What they did not expect was that the brother of one of them, who is a retired doctor, would denounce the mother superior to the bishop and the local media. "Despite the appeal in favour of the vaccine by the Pope, the bishops and even the President of the Republic, in the monastery of Montegalda the mother superior lives daily with stupid anti-vaccine propaganda. The last straw is that she is my sister", lamented the retired doctor.

The nun's brother complained that none of the nuns in the convent, who are between 50 and 70 years old, had been vaccinated and that the minimum anti-vaccine rules, such as social distancing or the obligation to wear masks, were not respected at Sunday Mass. In an official note, the bishop's office stressed the need to "scrupulously" respect the government's instructions, but admitted that the decision to be vaccinated falls "exclusively on the personal responsibility of each person".

The use of fetus

One of the most widespread hoaxes among skeptical members of the Catholic Church is that vaccines contain the remains of human fetuses aborted for their manufacture. "There are women who are impregnated by public or private companies to make them abort, extract the living fetus and use their organs in the experimentation of anti-covid vaccines", launched from the pulpit of his parish a priest of Cesena, provoking the indignation of parishioners.

In the United States, certain bishops have recommended against the use of vaccines developed with stem cells obtained from abortions, such as that of Johnson and Johnson. Last year, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that deals with questions related to Catholic faith and morals, opened the door to the inoculation of this serum, despite the fact that its production had used cell lines from tissues obtained from human fetuses aborted in the 1970s, which is not the same as saying that women had been fertilised with the aim of using their fetuses, as the Italian parish priest defended.

"When ethically impeccable vaccines against covid-19 are not available, it is morally acceptable to use vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process", the Vatican said.

An opening that provoked the rejection of the most conservative wing within the Vatican curia, critical of Francis' pontificate since his election, and which in Italy receives the support of the ultra-right wing of La Lega and Fratelli d'Italia. One of the main representatives of this current is the ultraconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, who went as far as to say that forcing citizens to be vaccinated was a "violation" of their freedom. In August, Burke was admitted and intubated in a U.S. hospital after contracting covid.