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Spanish medical body: Threat to conscientious objection on abortion ‘unacceptable, illegal, and unjust’

Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero speaks after the Council of Ministers, March 3, 2020. / La Moncloa - Gobierno de España via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Madrid, Spain, Jul 14, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

A body representing Spain’s medical colleges said on Monday that a government minister’s threat to conscientious objection on abortion is “unacceptable, illegal, and unjust.”

The General Council of Official Medical Colleges (CGCOM) was responding to proposed changes to the country’s abortion law announced by Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero.

Montero declared on July 8 that “the right of physicians to conscientious objection cannot be above women’s right to decide,” ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, reported.

The CGCOM, the governing body representing 52 local medical colleges, defended the right to conscientious objection in a July 12 statement.

“Forcing the conscience of physicians in order to expand the number of physicians available in all communities is, in addition to being unconstitutional, a bad solution, which from the perspective of the medical profession would be considered unacceptable, illegal, and unjust,” it said.

Montero’s announcement came just two weeks after the European Parliament adopted a report seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The CGCOM said: “Making it difficult to exercise the right to conscientious objection by rules or regulatory instructions is inappropriate, but it is also particularly unfair.”

“It makes physicians the target of the displeasure of patients and of sectors of society when they are not to blame, and when the opportunities to solve the problem lie elsewhere.”

ACI Prensa said that the Constitutional Court of Spain recognizes that doctors have a fundamental right to conscientious objection “when it derives from a moral imperative linked to life, such as abortion and euthanasia.”

Doctors are required to declare in advance, in writing, that they are conscientious objectors.

Spain legalized abortion in 1985. The law, which was last amended in 2015, permits abortion on demand up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks for fetal abnormalities and serious risk to a mother’s health.

Spain’s Ministry of Health reported that 99,149 abortions were performed in 2019, 3,232 more than in 2018.

Montero, a member of the Podemos party, a junior partner in a ruling coalition with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), has said that she is seeking to decriminalize abortion.

Other proposed changes to the law include the elimination of a mandatory three-day waiting period for women seeking an abortion, penalties for pro-lifers helping women outside abortion clinics, and the repeal of a law requiring parental consent for children aged 16 and 17 who want to procure an abortion.

The GCGOM, which is part of the Spanish Medical Colleges Organization (OMC), also criticized the timing of Montero’s comments about conscientious objection.

It said that the public authorities owed “an enormous moral debt to the medical profession” for its sacrifices during the coronavirus pandemic.

“A bad way to honor this debt would be to provoke dormant conflicts or to use a very damaged and mistreated collective as an alibi for policies that have not been designed with the necessary technical competence or material resources,” it said.

Franciscan order elects 121st successor of St. Francis of Assisi

Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, the new minister general of the Order of Friars Minor. / Courtesy of the Order of Friars Minor.

Rome Newsroom, Jul 13, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Order of Friars Minor announced Tuesday the election of Rome-native Fr. Massimo Fusarelli to be their newest minister general.

Fusarelli, 58, was elected by the order for a term of six years. The election was confirmed by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

“Minister general” is the term used for the leader of the Order of Friars Minor. The title comes from chapter 8 of the Rule of St. Francis.

Fusarelli will be the order’s 121st successor of St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscans in the 13th century on the hillsides of Umbria, central Italy. He succeeds Fr. Michael Perry, a native of Indianapolis, who led the order since 2013.

“May the Holy Spirit guard and guide Br. Massimo in the service of the brothers of the Order and of the whole Church,” a press release on the Franciscan order’s website said.

In a telegram to Fusarelli released July 13, Pope Francis said: “Having learned of your election, I congratulate you and assure you of my prayers and blessings, that the Lord may assist and protect you in the performance of your service.”

“May the Seraphic Father St. Francis be an encouragement to you in the guidance of your friars.”

Fusarelli has been provincial minister of the Province of St. Bonaventure, which covers the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, since July 2020.

Born in Rome, Fusarelli received the Franciscan habit in 1982 at the age of 19. He professed solemn vows in 1989 and was ordained a priest later the same year.

He studied theology at the Pontifical University of St. Anthony, also called the Antonianum, in Rome. He received a licentiate in patristic studies from Rome’s Augustinian Patristic Institute.

Fusarelli was a general visitor for the Province of Naples and for the unification process of the provinces of northern Italy.

From 2003 to 2009, the Franciscan priest was the general secretary of formation and studies.

Theologian: Germany’s practicing Catholics need more encouragement

Fr. Andreas Wollbold, a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. / Regina Frey.

Bonn, Germany, Jul 12, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A theologian has called on bishops and Catholic organizations in Germany to embrace and encourage practicing Catholics more actively.

Fr. Andreas Wollbold, a professor of pastoral theology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in southern Germany, made the comment after the publication of a 415-page study of Catholic life and communications in Germany.

“With a good 22 million Catholics in Germany, there are, after all, 1.5 million highly engaged people. They form a separate segment that can be served with clear, sophisticated, and really substantial contributions,” he told CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, on July 9.

“This also includes giving them the awareness of being exceptional, special, even initiated. They are the avant-garde, and not the last of the Mohicans.”

The study, known as “MDG Trendmonitor - Religious Communication 2020/21” and presented on July 7, surveyed 1,690 Catholics aged 14 and over in the summer of 2020.

The fourth of its kind, the study was produced by public opinion research companies with the support of the German Catholic bishops’ conference.

Ariadne Klingbeil, managing director of MDG, said: “The Trendmonitor is an important building block for developing strategies and concepts for what the Church does, and how the Church communicates.”

Welcoming the study, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart said: “Church media work must ensure that it truly serves people. That means not promoting every trend without question.”

“At the same time, the Church must herself be able to communicate, to reach people as and where they are. For this reason, Church media work must always question and develop itself.”

Wollbold told CNA Deutsch that, while the study had a strong empirical basis, Church leaders should be cautious about accepting the conclusions offered by the authors and contributing commentators.

“In the end, the impression given is that the traditional channels have no future. That, in general, the Church has to adapt more to the ideas of those who are distant from the Church -- and thus rapidly secularize itself,” he said.

“Everything is in flux, that is the credo that is emphasized. Because that is the only way to increase the need for advice,” which, he said, opinion research companies relied upon.

The professor suggested that those “who are familiar with the Faith and the Church live and think better.”

“Often, however, the opposite is conveyed and the Faith and the Church are presented as problem cases,” he commented.

The study concluded that a “digital transformation” is profoundly affecting the way that German Catholics consume media.

Klingbeil said that another significant finding was that, despite record numbers leaving the Church, the core membership of deeply committed Catholics has remained steady over the past 25 years or so.

“The decline in Church membership does not mean that religiosity is losing importance among the population,” she said.

The study also found that Catholics aged 14 to 17 are particularly committed to the church and are engaged with the faith, in contrast to Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29.

Asked if fundamental Church teachings were being conveyed adequately, Wollbold said: “No, the church and many of its media have almost completely fallen prey to the worldliness of our culture.”

“However, the knowledge of eternity and of a God for whom very different things count than earthly success and well-being are the decisive plus of Christianity. But that is something one really has to firmly believe.”

Pope Francis to visit Scotland ‘for a very short time’ in November

The flag of Scotland. / Lynx Aqua/Shutterstock.

Glasgow, Scotland, Jul 12, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will visit Scotland “for a very short time” in November, a spokesperson for the country’s bishops’ conference said Monday.

The pope is expected to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow on Nov. 1-12.

“The pope will be in Scotland for a very short time, most of which will be spent participating in the COP26 conference,” the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland spokesperson said July 12.

“While many pastoral, ecumenical, and interfaith gatherings would be desirable while he is with us, time constraints sadly mean such a full program will not be possible.”

During a visit to the Vatican in May, John Kerry, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate, noted that the pope “intends to attend” the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Kerry met with Pope Francis privately on May 15. In a video clip released by the Vatican, Kerry could be heard telling members of his staff, “first day he’ll be there with the heads of state.”

A “world leaders’ summit” is scheduled to take place on Nov. 1-2, the opening two days of the meeting.

Last month, the Vatican announced plans to partner in an event bringing together scientists and leaders of the world’s religions ahead of COP26.

“Faith and Science: Towards COP26” will take place on Oct. 4 at the Vatican. The event is being organized by the British and Italian Embassies to the Holy See.

At a press conference on June 17, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, said it was “highly likely” that the pope would participate in the October meeting given his commitment to the issue of climate change.

The Vatican has made no official announcement about the pope traveling to Glasgow in November.

Pope Francis is currently recuperating in hospital following a surgery on his colon.

“Scotland’s bishops express their prayerful support for Pope Francis as he recovers from his recent surgery,” the spokesperson said.

“Having written to the Holy Father to assure him of a warm welcome, should he attend the conference, they are delighted to hear that he does hope to attend and would be glad to meet with them in Glasgow.”

Expanded Reason Institute announces award winners

Benedict XVI at the Vatican, Feb. 27, 2013. Credit: Stephen Driscoll/CNA

Madrid, Spain, Jul 9, 2021 / 17:29 pm (CNA).

The winners of the fifth edition of the Expanded Reason Awards were announced this week, awarding three papers and one teaching program for their excellence in efforts to “broaden the horizons of rationality, based on the dialogue of sciences and disciplines with Philosophy and Theology.”

The Expanded Reason Awards are given by the Expanded Reason Institute, which was created by the University Francisco de Vitoria and the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation. 

The winners of this years’ awards in the research category were: Carter Snead, from the University of Notre Dame / de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture for the book “What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics”; Jeffrey Bishop, from Saint Louis University /Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Andrew Michel from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Therese Lysaught, from Loyola University Chicago for the book “Biopolitics After Neuroscience: Morality and the Economy of Virtue”; and  Michael Dominic Taylor from the Edith Stein Philosophy Institute / International Laudato Si´Institute for the book “The Foundations of Nature: Metaphysics of Gift for an Integral Ecological Ethic”.

In the teaching category, John Slattery, Curtis L. Baxter, Katharine Hinman and Jennifer J. Wiseman from the American Association for the Advancement of Science were awarded for their “Science for Seminaries Program.”  

The winners each receive a prize of 25,000 euro ($29,700) and will present a paper at the V Expanded Reason Congress. 

An honorable mention was awarded in the research category to Christopher Kaczor from Loyola Marymount University, for the book “The Gospel of Happiness: How Secular Psychology Points to the Wisdom of Christian Practice.”

The purpose of the Expanded Reason Institute is to “celebrate and promote academic innovations in the spirit of the proposal of Benedict XVI to broaden the horizons of reason.” 

According to the institute, “expanded reason” is “that which is open to knowing with truth what surrounds it, escaping from the ideological and subjectivist restrictions which often permeate the sphere of knowledge.”

“It is a question of seeking a wide knowledge, not only regarding the quantity of knowledge, but also the plenitude and depth of what is known, giving each science the authority that corresponds to it in its scope and category, but without leaving aside the ultimate meaning that gives meaning and unity to the specificity of each one of them,” says the website.

Pope Francis will visit this pilgrimage destination of saints in Slovakia

The Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín, Slovakia. / Doronenko via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Rome Newsroom, Jul 9, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis will travel to the Catholic-majority country of Slovakia on Sept. 12-15, stopping at four different locations.

One of these is Šaštín, one of Slovakia’s youngest towns, where there is an image of the Virgin Mary that has attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II.

The image is of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a figure so important to the people of Slovakia that Pope Pius XI declared her the country’s patroness in 1927.

Even when the country was absorbed into the Communist Bloc, the Slovakian people managed to be present at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín for her Sept. 15 feast day.

In 1985, more than 50,000 people, mostly young, made a pilgrimage to Šaštín. Bishop Julius Gábriš of Trnava, the country’s only diocese at the time, spoke to the pilgrims.

“Christianity gave birth to our nation...[and] the Marian cult allowed for happy historical evolution…” the bishop said. “We are a Marian nation!”

John Paul II offered Mass for 200,000 people in front of the basilica on July 1, 1995, during the second of the three trips he made to Slovakia as pope.

The last day of Pope Francis’ visit to Slovakia falls on Sept. 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, to whom he has a special devotion.

In a homily on April 3, 2020, Pope Francis recalled the grieving “disciple and mother.”

“Christian piety has gathered up the pains of Our Lady and speaks of the ‘seven sorrows,’” he said.

The seven sorrows of Mary are the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, Mary’s meeting with Jesus on his way to the cross, the crucifixion of Jesus, when Jesus is taken down from the cross, and the burial of Jesus.

In paintings and statues, the seven sorrows are often depicted as seven swords driven into Mary’s heart.

The history of the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Šaštín begins with a woman named Angelica, who was abandoned on the land where the shrine now stands by her husband, the Hungarian nobleman Imarich Czobor, in 1564.

Desperate and alone, the woman appealed to the Virgin Mary for help, promising to build a shrine to Our Lady of Sorrows on the spot if her prayers were answered. Shortly after this prayer, Angelica’s husband returned and asked for forgiveness.

She kept her promise to the Virgin Mary and erected a shrine with a statue of Our Lady on the spot, which became the site of miraculous healings.

The current baroque-style basilica was constructed by Pauline monks in 1736 and consecrated by the bishop of Esztergom in the presence of Maria Theresa of Austria and her husband, Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1786, the church shrine and monastery were taken over by Emperor Joseph II, who banished the order and gave charge of the shrine to diocesan priests.

In 1864, the shrine had a great revival with celebrations for the 300th anniversary of its founding.

Under communism, the church was turned into barracks for soldiers in an attempt to stifle the country’s devotion to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

After the fall of communism in the 1990s, the shrine experienced a renewal as a site of pilgrimage for the Catholics of Slovakia and visitors from abroad.

Polish archbishop asks for coadjutor after Vatican negligence probe

Archbishop Wiktor Skworc of Katowice, Poland. / Adrian Tync via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Krakow, Poland, Jul 9, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).

A Polish archbishop has asked for a coadjutor following a Vatican probe into his handling of clerical abuse cases.

The archdiocese of Kraków announced the conclusions of the investigation into the actions of Archbishop Wiktor Skworc of Katowice, southern Poland, on July 9.

In a statement, Kraków archdiocese said that the Vatican had investigated claims that Skworc behaved negligently concerning abuse cases involving two priests of the Diocese of Tarnów, which Skworc led from 1998 to 2011.

Tarnów, in southeastern Poland, is a suffragan diocese of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Kraków.

The inquiry was conducted according to the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.

The Kraków archdiocese statement said that Skworc had requested the investigation himself and that, following its conclusion, he had asked for a coadjutor archbishop, who would assist him with the administration of the archdiocese.

The 73-year-old archbishop resigned as a member of the permanent council of the Polish bishops’ conference.

He also resigned as chairman of the Polish bishops’ committee for pastoral care.

In addition, he promised to contribute from his private funds to the expenses of Tarnów diocese related to issues of sexual abuse.

Since November 2020, the Vatican has disciplined a series of mainly retired Polish bishops after investigating negligence claims.

On June 28, Bishop Zbigniew Kiernikowski resigned as bishop of Legnica, southwestern Poland, days before his 75th birthday after a Vos estis probe into his handling of clerical abuse cases.

Days earlier, the Vatican took action against two other Polish bishops after investigations.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, a former aide to St. John Paul II, is facing a Vatican investigation into claims that he mishandled abuse cases while serving as archbishop of Kraków from 2005 to 2016.

The Catholic Church in Poland announced last month that it had received 368 allegations of clerical abuse in the past two and a half years.

The claims relate to abuse reportedly committed by 292 priests and religious between 1958 and 2020.

A study released on June 28 by the Institute of Statistics of the Catholic Church said that the allegations were made between July 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2020.

In a message to Catholics in Katowice archdiocese, which he has led since 2011, Skworc said that he accepted the results of the Vatican inquiry and made “a sincere and humble request for forgiveness” to those who were wronged and their families.

He insisted that in his almost 10 years as archbishop of Katowice, he had followed procedures concerning abuse cases correctly.

He said: “I make no secret of the fact that in my 24th year as bishop I am experiencing the most difficult moments of my life, therefore I trust in Divine Providence and ask for your support in prayer, especially in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.”

“I ask the clergy of the archdiocese and people in consecrated life for the same support and understanding. Let us together cry out for mercy for us and for the whole world.”

Vatican ‘foreign minister’: ‘We are against the idea that abortion could be a human right’

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican secretary for relations with states. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Lisbon, Portugal, Jul 9, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s “foreign minister” said on Wednesday that the Holy See rejects the assertion in a report adopted by the European Parliament that abortion is a “human right.”

Archbishop Paul Gallagher made the comment on July 7 during a visit to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.

“Obviously it’s not difficult to imagine what the position of the Holy See is on this. We are against the idea that abortion could be a human right,” the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States told Rádio Renascença.

The European Parliament voted last month in favor of a report describing abortion as “essential healthcare” and seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

Members of the parliament, the EU’s law-making body, voted by 378 votes in favor and 255 against, with 42 abstentions, to adopt the text, known as the Matić Report, at a plenary session in Brussels, Belgium.

Asked about the threat to conscientious objection, Gallagher said: “And we’re very disappointed that conscience clauses, wherever they exist, in whatever circumstances, whatever law, are eliminated. And we know that it’s a growing tendency in many parts of the world. So we are disappointed by that decision as well.”

Gallagher met with Augusto Santos Silva, the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, during his visit to Portugal, which will host World Youth Day in 2023. Portuguese officials have said they believe that Pope Francis will attend the event that draws hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world.

The Church-owned radio station also asked the archbishop whether Pope Francis’ decision to make just a brief trip to Hungary, before visiting Slovakia on Sept. 12-15, was a snub to the government of Viktor Orbán.

“No, it’s not any judgment on a government or authorities in Hungary,” he replied. “The pope was very clear right from the beginning that he was going to Budapest exclusively to celebrate the concluding Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress.”

Gallagher also commented on the pope’s summit for Lebanese Christian leaders on July 1.

“I think that the strategy, if you like, is that the Christian religious leaders have gone back and that they are going to talk with their people. They are going to talk with the politicians and we will try to find a way forward to whatever contribution that we can make. And the Holy See is very willing,” said Gallagher, 67, from Liverpool, England.

“The Holy Father has made a commitment to visit Lebanon. He has also said that he will visit Lebanon when there is a government. So that’s a great stimulus to form a government. But there may be other visits as well. We’ll wait and see.”

In conclusion, he said: “We don’t really have what you’d call a ‘roadmap’ for what we’re doing. We’re trying to do small steps, move forward, see what the reaction is. But we are appealing at the same time to the international community to do everything in its power to help Lebanon at this critical time.”

Holy See to UN: Children should not be ‘collateral victims’ of violence against women

The Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, which houses the meeting room of the UN Human Rights Council. / Groov3 via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0).

Rome Newsroom, Jul 8, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Holy See’s delegation at the United Nations in Geneva told the Human Rights Council last week that children conceived due to sexual violence should not be made “collateral victims” through abortion.

“The Holy See wishes to reaffirm the rights and dignity of children conceived as a result of sexual violence, beginning with their right to life,” the delegation’s statement said.

“These children should not become the collateral victims of the abhorrent violence perpetrated against women,” it added. “Rather, they need to be supported and loved.”

The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva presented the statement June 28, during the 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council, which is being held through July 13.

The Holy See’s statement was a response to a report by the special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Special rapporteurs are independent human rights experts who work in conjunction with the Human Rights Council. They are not U.N. staff and serve on a voluntary basis.

“This year’s report specifically focuses on rape as a grave, systematic and widespread human rights violation,” the delegation noted. “As stated by Pope Francis, the crime of rape is ‘a most grave offense against the dignity of women, who are not only violated in body but also in spirit, resulting in a trauma hard to erase and with effects on society as well.’”

The statement continued: “On a broader scale, psychological violence, verbal violence, physical violence, and sexual violence are ‘acts of cowardice and a degradation of all humanity.’”

“It is widely recognized that the more the dignity of women is promoted and protected, the more so too for the family, the community and society,” the Holy See underlined. “Likewise, every time a woman suffers violence, it is the whole community and society itself that suffer.”

The Holy See said it is a moral duty to provide victims of violence with support and protection; and children conceived as a result of sexual violence should likewise be given attention and programs “to ensure their protection and to foster healing, reconciliation, and full integration in the society.”

“Respect for human life and for every person, from conception to natural death, is the starting point for overcoming a culture of violence,” the Holy See told the Human Rights Council.

On July 2, the Holy See gave a statement on children’s privacy rights, the subject of another report, underlining that “it is essential to avoid the risk of pitting the ‘rights of parents’ against the ‘rights of the child,’ as if they were conflicting sets of autonomous rules placed on an equal footing.”

“Such an approach fails to consider that all human rights must be at the service of the dignity of the human person,” the Holy See said.

“Children need their parents,” the delegation commented, adding that parents are fundamental to children’s integral human development, “guiding them as they mature in both their personal autonomy and responsibility within the family.”

The Holy See said that “authentic development must take into account all dimensions of the human person, including the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and moral levels. It must also recognize the progressive nature of human development.”

Parents’ capacity to monitor and control their children’s use of electronic devices is not a violation of children’s right to privacy but an essential means of promoting and protecting their rights and dignity, it continued, as well as a safety measure to ensure that they are not exploited.

The delegation expressed its “deep concern” about the approach of the special rapporteur, “in which the rights of the child are in opposition to the legitimate rights and responsibilities of parents.”

“Instead, a positive approach is needed, one that embraces and supports the constructive and necessary role of parents in protecting and educating their children,” the Holy See said.

The Holy See also reiterated that international law does not recognize a so-called right to “reproductive sexual information and services” and the “‘mandatory parental notification and/or consent for prescribed contraceptives and abortion’ is not an infringement on the right to privacy of children but rather the right and duty of the parent in their evaluation of the best interests of their child.”

Polish Catholic bishops’ leader: The Church supports those opting for COVID-19 vaccine

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, pictured Jan. 15, 2018. / EpiskopatNews Flickr photostream.

Warsaw, Poland, Jul 8, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference said on Thursday that the Church supports those who opt to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki issued the statement July 8 as the Polish government seeks to expand its vaccination program ahead of a potential fourth wave of the virus this fall, while a significant number of Poles remain hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

“Vaccination against COVID-19 is an important tool for limiting the spread of the infection and is seen by very many people as a hope for the possibility of returning to the normal functioning of societies,” the archbishop of Poznań said.

“For this reason, the Church, in contact with the competent medical and sanitary services, supports the educational and informational social and public initiatives aimed at increasing the awareness of the faithful regarding vaccination.”

“Furthermore, the Church supports all those who make the decision to be vaccinated.”

Poland, a central European country of almost 38 million people, has recorded more than 2.8 million cases of COVID-19 and over 75,000 related deaths as of July 8, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Polls have indicated that Poland has one of the highest levels of vaccine skepticism in Europe. A survey in May by Eurofound, a European Union agency, concluded that almost 40% of Poles were either very unlikely or rather unlikely to take the vaccine when it becomes available.

Around 87% of Poles are baptized Catholics.

Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski thanked Gądecki for his intervention.

He expressed gratitude on his Twitter account July 8 for the “very important voice of the Church” on vaccinations, which he said was “so much needed today.”

On July 5, another senior Polish churchman, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, wrote a letter to priests, asking them to encourage their flock to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

In his message, Gądecki referred to earlier positive assessments of the vaccines by bioethics experts of the Polish bishops’ conference.

He also cited a note by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the morality of using COVID-19 vaccines that, during research and production, employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from aborted babies.

He underlined the doctrinal congregation’s declaration that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation.”

“The decision to vaccinate should take into account the requirements of the common good, but vaccination should be voluntary,” Gądecki commented.

He also referred to the example of Pope Francis, who has received two doses of the vaccine and also called for vaccines to be shared with the world’s poor.

In conclusion, the archbishop, who is vice-president of the Council of the Conferences of European Bishops (CCEE), said: “Vaccination should not lead to the neglect of other elements important in limiting the spread of SARS-COV-2 infection and the treatment of COVID-19, including hygiene, responsibility in human relations, accessibility to health care services, including effective pharmacotherapy, and the development of basic and clinical research aimed at better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.”