Beware unfounded and terrifying Covid-19 conspiracies

Beware unfounded and terrifying Covid-19 conspiracies

One of the more worrying aspects of this past year of challenges is the proliferation of misinformation and unfounded conspiracy theories concerning the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most egregious example was one message that did the rounds of many WhatsApp groups outlining a series of utterly false claims linking Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, George Soros, and Jeffrey Epstein, and claiming to establish a link between the Covid vaccines and the gas used in Nazi concentration camps. Like so many similar messages it was sensational, simple, and terrifying. Rather than pause to consider the outlandish claims, to research their veracity, to weigh up their plausibility, many thousands of people simply pressed the “forward” button, turning themselves into vectors of lies and panic.

I received many messages like this during the last nine months, including many in recent weeks claiming that the Covid-19 vaccines being developed are particularly unsafe, or will lead to genetic modification or even mind control in recipients. Other messages claimed that all Covid-19 vaccines must necessarily be rejected by Catholics for ethical reasons.

What particularly concerns me as a priest is the fact that I received so many of these messages via networks of committed Catholics. As readers of the Scriptures we should know the standard to which we’re called: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour” (Eph 4:25). To spread misinformation is contrary to our following of Jesus, the Truth Incarnate.


On top of this, when people of faith make incoherent or irrational claims they risk giving the impression that our faith is not consistent with reason. St Augustine in his own time was aware of this: “It is offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense, […] claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn”.

In light of all this, I was overjoyed recently to listen to a podcast on healthcare and ethics, both of which are authentically Catholic, well informed, responsible, and rational: “Doctor, Doctor”, produced under the auspices of EWTN, and easily found online.

Two episodes of this podcast deal with the question of Covid-19 vaccines, and they do so with clarity, nuance, and sympathy for concerned Catholics. The hosts and their guests rightly lament the fact that some vaccines are being developed using cell lines from two aborted infants, but they point out that this is simply not the case for the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

They explain too that, according to the 2008 CDF document, Dignitas Personae, a Catholic may in good conscience receive even a vaccine that was developed using foetal cell lines, if there is no reasonable alternative. Our use of such vaccines should be reluctant and coupled with protest (letters written to the company producing the vaccine and to the Department of Health, for example).

The podcasts also outline how vaccines are normally developed and tested, and explain that the Covid-19 vaccines are going through all the tests that vaccines ordinarily undergo.

As for the more lurid claims about these vaccines “changing our DNA” or leading to mind control, the hosts gently explain how groundless these claims are.

The decision to take a particular vaccine requires careful thought. Every medicine involves risk, and vaccines are no different. Individual judgments on this question may legitimately differ, and as Catholics we have a responsibility to be particularly cautious, given our bioethical concerns. But as we believers discern these questions, let’s make sure to use our God-given reason, and let’s not cause scandal to others by spreading lies. Even in a time of fear – especially in a time of fear – the God of truth calls us to “speak truthfully to our neighbour”.

Faith and science: a match made in heaven

Our community of faith has a glorious tradition of scientific research and innovation, and two figures from that tradition are particularly relevant today. During a plague in 1656, the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher examined the blood of plague victims with a rudimentary microscope, spotting small organisms there which he suggested might be causing the spread of plague. It was a major step in the direction of the “germ theory” of disease with which we’re so familiar, and Kircher proposed, among other preventive measures, the use of face masks. Two centuries later, the devout Catholic layman, Louis Pasteur, discovered that administration of the attenuated form of a virus can provide immunity. This led him, at great personal risk, to develop vaccines against chicken cholera, anthrax, and rabies. “Happy the man”, Pasteur famously said, “who contains in himself the ideals of science and the ideals of the Gospel”. Amen to that!