The Pope, Pharma, and Moral Imperatives

As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words.

What’s the difference between God and a doctor?

God doesn’t think He’s a doctor.

That used to be funny…

God, of course, knows medicine, having made the human body in its innermost parts. As omniscient and omnipotent, He can do anything, far better than we. But in His goodness, God apportions His authority to each of us, according to our talents, gifts and, most of all, our vocation.

We wrote recently on Pope Francis, who described being vaccinated as an ‘act of love’. The ante has now been upped, with his more recent claim that vaccination is a ‘moral imperative’.

In both cases, the Pope has ventured outside his authority, even if he is not speaking in a properly authoritative mode. Catholics should not feel bound in conscience by these words, and they certainly should not be used as a basis for secular vaccine mandates.

Papal authority, as Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, makes clear, extends as far as the deposit of revelation, and other matters necessarily connected to those truths, which means faith, morals, and certain aspects of discipline.

Hence, the Pope might exhort us in a general way to respond to a given pandemic or enemy or crisis, as he did for the Crusades and the Black Death. He might urge, even command, specific prayers, acts of piety, penances, pilgrimages.

What he cannot do, qua Vicar of Christ, is command any specific course of action that belongs to secular or individual expertise or prudence, contingencies that do not belong to revealed truth. Pope Urban II, calling for the knights of Europe to fight to free the Holy Land in 1095 – Deus vult! – could not, and did not, advocate what sorts of weapons or stratagems to use. Imagine the embarrassment if some of the papally-approved crossbows aimed badly, or ended up misfiring their bolts back into the chests of their wielders. Even with the crusades themselves, given their oft-disastrous outcome, perhaps Deus non vult. The Pope’s will is not always God’s, and, pace Machiavelli, neither is it law.

More to our point at hand, Pope Clement VI in 1348 refrained from advocating specific medical treatments against the bubonic plague then decimating Europe, most of which were useless, or worse. The Pope’s own physician suggested isolation inside the papal apartments at Avignon, seated between two flaming torches, which advice Clement followed for a time. But his conscience soon got the better of him, and he returned to his spiritual duties, overseeing the care of the sick, burial of the dead, prayers, and condemning in no uncertain terms theories that blamed the pestilence on the Jews, and the pogroms that followed. I will leave the reader to draw what analogies he will from this.

Medicine has come a long way from the 14th century, its complexity such that even experts disagree. Far less is it within the papal authority to advocate for specific medical interventions, whether for Covid, cancer or carbuncles. To plug for such products – and I think here of the infomercial the Pope did a few months ago with some South American bishops – reduces the papal office, and compromises the rightful freedom of Catholics, and all people of good will, to choose or refuse this, and any other, treatment.

There may be darker and more insidious issues at play here, with the strange alliance between the Vatican and Big Pharma wrapped up in these vaccines, fraught with moral and medical problems. What may be going on behind the scenes is disconcerting, an eye-opening summary of which the reader may peruse here. I leave such entanglements to God, before whom we all, the Pope included, must give an account for what we have done, and not done, in our conscience.

And that conscience is your own, dear reader, formed by official Magisterial teaching, properly promulgated, which makes it quite clear that we are free to decide. We all have a duty to insist on such fundamental human rights, regardless of what else is at stake, or what choice we make. Pray for light and grace, to choose well, and stand firm in the truth.

Deus vult!