Vatican Round Table Addresses Vaccine Hesitancy and Disinformation

By Bree Dail
Bree Dail
Bree Dail
July 30, 2021 Updated: July 30, 2021

VATICAN CITY—A Vatican round table and online conference focused on combatting “vaccine hesitancy” by countering disinformation, but neglected to include views critical of COVID-19 vaccines. A future conference will address the oversight.

Throughout the conference, held on July 1, several of the experts admitted to frustration in addressing disinformation on vaccines—often, they said, propagated by members of the media.

Co-moderator Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, Chair of the Council for the World Medical Association, said, “I could say I have a dream—and you understand that correctly—I have a dream that one day from all Catholic preachers will come, maybe on the orders of Pope Francis, the idea that they speak out for vaccination.”

He then asked Dr. Stefano Semplici, representing the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for life, a question, “Because a lot of people who are not interested or not informed, however, believe in what the Catholic Church says. [Couldn’t] we use this impact for a campaign, and it would be very, very helpful?”

“As you can easily imagine, I am not entitled to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church,” the Italian Bioethicist responded. “When it comes to individual believers or groups of believers—yes, it is true there are differences of opinions for different reasons, and this is similar to what happens in other contexts. Luckily enough, I would say, the Catholic Church offers an open space for debate, mutual recognition, and respect.”

Semplici continued, addressing the notion of the “common good.” Using Ebola as an example, he emphasized that combatting crises does not come with blanket approvals. “This means that the context, the specific characteristics of the pathology we are talking about—that we are tackling—also matters. It can matter a lot!…Maybe to the point that decisions could also change, could also have been different had conditions been different.”

Montgomery would later comment on how responding to the pandemic may require sacrificing some human rights: “On the [subject of] the common good, I would also like to give some credit to our lawmakers and our politicians, because we as physicians sometimes very often consider the common good to be the best of health. We forget for a politician, he or she lives in a rectangle, and in one corner there is health—but in the next corner there is economy and they have to consider that.  And in the bottom corner there [are] socio psychological questions like, for instance, when you close schools, do you deprive generations of children of good education? And finally—and you mentioned that, Professor Semplici, in your presentations—finally, also on the question of basic human rights—which have to be retained—which have to be taken away from people for a period of time.”

Vaccine Hesitancy

Kathy Schmugge, Family Life Director of the Diocese of Charleston—who identified herself as a bioethicist—asked the panel, “Regarding the use of the fetal stem cell lines in the vaccine, I know it is licit in the case of COVID, but is there any effort to try to prevent the use of the fetal stem cell lines [in the future], so that those who might be repulsed or put off by taking the vaccine on that issue? I feel like that could block some people, even though the Church has spoken on this issue, the use of the fetal stem cell line could be a deterrent.”

Semplici responded, “Of course this is a matter of serious concern, for many people especially within the Catholic Church, but as a matter of fact I think this is not one of the major drivers to vaccine hesitancy.”

Simplici continued, “Also considering the fact, as I said, the very clear words have been spoken from the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here I quote, The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent—in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.’”

Semplici advised, “Of course the question focuses on an issue that needs to be dealt with, not only within the Catholic Church…Maybe [this should be] the topic for our next meeting within the Vatican, or elsewhere.”

Future Conference: A Pledge of Balance

Within the round table, it was noted several times, that a one-day virtual meeting was a hindrance to the effort of collaboration and debate that was originally envisioned for the conference.

At the press conference the following day, The Epoch Times asked Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the chair of the panel, and the co-moderators Drs. Montgomery and Ramin Parsa-Pari of the German Medical Association, for details on the future conference mentioned on the webinar.

Specifically, The Epoch Times asked why the round table only included experts on one side of the debate, and whether the organizations hosting the event would commit to a future conference inviting recognized experts representing all sides of the debate, including critics of the COVID vaccines.

Archbishop Paglia responded in Italian. “In fact, the Pontifical [Academy] for Life, which has already planned to deal with the issue of vaccines, obviously wants to deal with it [the topic] wholly, therefore convening all the dimensions related to addressing this issue that, as I mentioned in my speech, is not only a technically scientific issue—but it is an ethical issue, is a social issue, is a theme that involves a new anthropological perspective. So in this sense we will continue to debate the issue of vaccines.”

The Archbishop continued, emphasizing that any consideration of debate on healthcare, especially in a time of crisis, must include the understanding of the individual’s responsibility to the common good.

“So even in the examination of the next congress that we have [proposed] is certain that we will take into account those who are critical of vaccines, as a possible means of solution. In this sense we have never said—in the Pontifical Academy— we have never spoken of ‘obligation’ but of ‘responsibility.’

“And there is a difference in weight and also in perspective, knowing that the responsibility, according to scientific knowledge that we have, is a very serious responsibility—very, very serious. Because, it is not only my health that is at stake, but also the health of others and I cannot disregard that.”

Later, in a tweet, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia reconfirmed that a future “expanded conference will present the views of those in opposition [to the vaccine] and those in favor.”

Doubts on Credibility of ‘AntiVaxers’

Dr. Montgomery seemed to focus more on a perceived “tone” of the question Epoch Times presented, rather than the substance.

“[The question] shows a misconception of the idea of the webinar which we had, yesterday.” He went on to say that those on the panel were “independent individuals,” but then said they “represented large organizations such as the European Center for Disease Control, the American Center for Disease Control, and WHO.”

Protesting what he described as the “undertone” of Epoch’s question, he “simply refused to acknowledge…that the ‘other experts’ on what you call the ‘other side of the discussion’ are recognized scientists and credible experts.” Montgomery continued that such individuals, if they exist, would be recognized within the large organizations that were represented.

Montgomery was later challenged in his statement, when a journalist pointed out to him a series of articles in peer-reviewed medical journals he was sent, that raised serious concerns on the safety of mRNA vaccines.

Montgomery said he personally knew one of the doctors who published a study in the German Medical Journal, “Vaccines”, but stated that although the cited study was peer-reviewed, it contained a number of “gross fallacies” that made the paper “not very important.”

The study, which claimed that “for three deaths prevented by vaccination, two [were] inflicted by vaccination,” was retracted on July 2, 2021.

Similar to the comments made by Montgomery, the journal noted, “Serious concerns were brought to the attention of the publisher regarding misinterpretation of data, leading to incorrect and distorted conclusions.”

Parsa-Parsi responded to Epoch’s inquiry, “We are physicians, we represent physicians and we are bound to evidence-based medicine. That is what we believe in and that is how we work.”

He continued, however, stating that open debate would be welcome. “We would always admit and invite, happily, all the different aspects of credible science and today’s medicine.”

During the online conference, Professor Semplici seemed to have concurred with the need for ongoing debate, utilizing the scientific method—and, in his words—humility.

“It is nothing bad, that when confronted with something completely new, scientists come and say, ‘well, we cannot say exactly what’s going on. we are trying to improve our knowledge’’

He concluded, “It is completely obvious that some conflicts—different opinions, may arise. Being humble makes it easier to build trust—otherwise, it can easily happen that trust, itself, is jeopardized when we see scientists confront each other in a very harsh way, as if they had certain knowledge, that are still a work in progress—this is something also, very important, to understand and keep in mind for the future, in my opinion.”

The full presentations of speakers has been published by the World Medical Association, and is available on youtube.

Epoch Times will follow this story, as the Pontifical Academy for Life develops similar upcoming conferences.

Bree Dail
Bree Dail