April 2010 Print

Questions and Answers

Fr. Peter R. Scott

Can parents claim a religious exemption against vaccinations for their children?

The decision as to whether or not to accept vaccinations for one’s children is a very delicate and complex one. Many different factors enter into the decision, and since these factors differ greatly from one vaccine to another and from one family and one individual to another, there can be no one standard answer to the vaccination question. The essential consideration is the proportion between the risk of complications from the vaccine and the potential benefit to be gained both by the individual and by society as a whole. This proportion is not easy to evaluate, since there are many well-documented, medically acknowledged complications (such as fever, seizures, neurological complications), and then there are the other difficulties that might not be scientifically proven to be a consequence of any particular vaccine, but for which many believe that there is a good index of suspicion, such as compromising of the natural immunity to infectious disease, and other ill-defined but real problems that have often been linked to vaccinations, such as learning disabilities and autism. All this has to be balanced against the frequency and gravity of the infectious disease against which the parents desire to protect their children.

In principle the evaluation of this proportion is a medical consideration and not a religious one, and the exemption from vaccinations that people request is on medical grounds, because they consider that the dangers outweigh the potential gain. It would not be right to claim a religious exemption for a decision of this nature. This is the false attitude of those religious sects that refuse to acknowledge the real value of modern medical science. Indeed, it is not the function of the Church to determine which vaccinations are proportionate, and which are not, and whether vaccinations have a negative impact on the immune system or are responsible for autism or other such disorders.

However, involved in this whole question of vaccination, there is a principle of natural law, namely that parents have the responsibility and consequently the right to make these kinds of decisions for their children. It is only indirectly, then, inasmuch as the Church defends this right of parents enshrined in the natural law, that this question could be considered a religious one, and religious exemption could be claimed.

This principle of natural law is clearly stated in the 1917 Code of Canon Law:

Parents are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children, as well as to their physical and civic training, as far as they can, and moreover to provide for their temporal well being. (Canon 1113)

Note that parents’ rights are not limited to the area of education, but include every aspect of life. If the Church defends parents’ rights over those of the State in the area of education in particular, since these are the rights that modern secularists attack most vehemently, the same principles apply also to issues of health, such as vaccinations.

It was in his encyclical on the Christian Education of Youth (1929) that Pope Pius XI, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, explained the basis of this inviolable right of the family:

The child is naturally something of the father…so by natural right the child, before reaching the use of reason, is under the father’s care. Hence it would be contrary to natural justice if the child, before the use of reason, were removed from the care of its parents, or if any disposition were made concerning him against the will of the parents. (Divini Illius Magistri, Angelus Press, p. 20)

The Pope comments on this, pointing out that “this duty on the part of the parents continues up to the time when the child is in a position to provide for itself,” applying this to the inviolable right of parental education. However, the same argument can be applied to all health-related issues, as Canon 1113 explicitly states.

In the same encyclical, Pope Pius XI answers the revolutionary objections of those who would want to overturn the natural law, making the child belong primarily to the State, and consequently giving the State responsibility in all such matters, over and above the parents:

On this point the common sense of mankind is in such complete accord, that they would be in open contradiction with it who dared maintain that the children belong to the State before they belong to the family, and that the State has an absolute right over their education. Untenable is the reason they adduce, namely that a man is born a citizen and hence belongs primarily to the State, not bearing in mind that before being a citizen man must exist; and existence does not come from the State, but from the parents, as Leo XIII wisely declared: “The children are something of the father, and as it were an extension of the person of the father; and, to be perfectly accurate, they enter into and become part of civil society, not directly by themselves, but through the family in which there were born…and therefore the father’s power is of such a nature that it cannot be destroyed or absorbed by the State, for it has the same origin as human life itself. (Rerum Novarum)

Inasmuch as the Church defends with insistence the natural right of the family in the question of vaccinations, as all other issues necessary for the temporal well-being of children, a right that modern society tends to deny, it is certainly possible and at times prudent to claim a religious exemption from vaccinations. However, it must be understood that it is not up to the Church any more than to the State to determine which vaccinations ought to be given and which ought not. All that the Church can do is to condemn those vaccinations in which immorality is involved. This could be in the production of the vaccine, as in the case of those derived from aborted fetal cell lines, or in the life style that the vaccine encourages, such as the HPV vaccine, effective for only five years, when given to pre-teen girls to protect against venereal disease and the higher incidence of cervical cancer that is its consequence.


Should we recite the luminous mysteries of the rosary?

It was in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae of October 16, 2002, that Pope John Paul II attempted to modify the rosary, amongst other things by adding in five additional mysteries, called the mysteries of light to distinguish them from the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries.

Unfortunately, this letter, which pretends to promote the rosary, is tainted by naturalism throughout, and considers the rosary as a psychological experience similar to the prayers and meditations of non-Catholic religions. Hence the importance of the “anthropological significance of the rosary” (§25), making understood the mystery of man. Amongst the “improvements” to the rosary proposed in this vein is the addition of the mysteries of light, especially chosen so as not to give offense to Protestants, namely all fully described in the Gospels and none of them explicitly mentioning the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is in line with the pope’s avowed intention of making the rosary more “Christocentric,” which means in practice that it becomes less explicitly Marian.

The five “significant,” “luminous,” “moments” (§21) that he chooses are Christ’s baptism in the Jordan river, His self-manifestation at Cana, His proclamation of the Kingdom of God and call to conversion, His Transfiguration, and the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. They are all beautiful events taken from the Gospels, and much appreciated as manifestations of Jesus’s goodness, in which He shows Himself, His power, His mercy, or His kingdom. However, it is very interesting to note that none of them has a direct rapport with the mystery of the Redemption, the institution of the Holy Eucharist alone having an indirect relationship inasmuch as it is the foundation of its unbloody renewal. The introduction of these mysteries is, then, an effort to water down the traditional focus on the essential mysteries of the Redemption, as contained in the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries.

However, it is no accident that the traditional mysteries of the rosary are entirely focused on the mystery of the Redemption, prepared in the joyful mysteries, accomplished in the sorrowful mysteries, and applied in the glorious mysteries. If Tradition has handed them down to us in this manner, it is because these are the mysteries that our souls need to meditate on for eternal salvation. In one of his yearly encyclicals on the rosary, Pope Leo XIII explains this:

The Rosary offers an easy way to penetrate the chief mysteries of the Christian religion and to impress them on the mind.…in an orderly pattern the chief mysteries of our religion follow one another.…First come the mysteries in which the Word was made flesh and Mary, the inviolate Virgin and Mother, performed her maternal duties for him with a holy joy; then come the sorrows, the agony and death of the suffering Christ, the price at which the salvation of our race was accomplished; finally follow the mysteries full of his glory. (Magnae Dei Matris, Sept. 8, 1892)

The reason for this change of orientation is to turn attention little by little away from the Redemption as a purchasing of the souls of sinners, buying us back from our sins by making satisfaction for the offense given to God. The modern theology of the Paschal Mystery thinks that this is not necessary, that God is not so childish as to require payment for sins, and that consequently all we need to reflect on is the manifestation of God’s love or glory or kindness, for “each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §21).

The end result of the recitation of these luminous mysteries will be a dessication of the rosary, its losing its specifically Marian focus, turning one’s attention away from the union with Christ’s act of Redemption by which alone we can be saved from our sins. Little by little it will become empty and sterile and will not be prayed. Consequently, we ought to refuse this optional “improvement,” but rather stick to the hard and tried Tradition of the Church that has sanctified so many generations of saints. Although it is not in itself a sin to recite these mysteries of light with modern Catholics, we certainly ought to discourage their recitation, and avoid purchasing or making available any pamphlets or booklets that present the mysteries of light.



Is capitalism to be condemned to the same extent as communism?

It is certainly true that the Church condemns both laissez-faire capitalism and communism, neither political system being according to Catholic principles. However, there is a profound difference, the former not being opposed to the natural law as is the latter, which was condemned as “intrinsically perverse” by Pope Pius XI in his 1937 encyclical on communism, Divini Redemptoris.

It was, in fact, before the publication of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, in his first encyclical, Qui Pluribus (1846), that Pope Pius IX identified and condemned the fundamental perversion of communism: “the unspeakable doctrine of Communism, as it is called, a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow” (§16). Archbishop Lefebvre comments:

It could not be better expressed. What is left of the rights of men in the countries where Communist governments have been established? There is no more property, it has been replaced by Collectivism. As for human society, it has been replaced by slavery. (Against the Heresies, p. 51)

Pope Leo XIII in his magisterial encyclical on the condition of the working classes, Rerum Novarum, condemned both excesses. However, not in the same way. After defending the right of ownership of private property as the foundation of human society, he has this to say of socialism:

The fundamental principle of Socialism which would make all possessions public property is to be utterly rejected because it injures the very ones whom it seeks to help, contravenes the natural rights of individual persons, and throws the functions of the State and public peace into confusion. (§23)

He goes on to condemn the implacable class warfare engineered by communism as “abhorrent to reason and truth.”

When it comes to capitalism, it is not the system of private ownership and profit that he condemns, nor the inequalities that exist among men:

There are truly very great and very many natural differences among men. Neither the talents, nor the skill, nor the health, nor the capacities of all are the same, and unequal fortune follows of itself upon necessary inequality in respect to these endowments. And clearly this condition of things is adapted to benefit both individuals and the community… (§26).

To the contrary, it is not capitalism itself but rather the abuse of private ownership, so characteristic of modern-day capitalism, that the Church condemns. Pope Leo XIII lists some abuses, such as treating workers as slaves, or refusing to pay them a just, living, and family wage:

It is shameful and inhuman, however, to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy….To defraud anyone of the wage due him is a great crime that calls down avenging wrath from Heaven. (§§31, 32)

He goes on to teach that the collaboration between workers and employers must go beyond simple questions of justice to a relationship of friendship, not bound by materialism, but considering that earthly gain of transitory things is but a preparation for eternity.

It follows from these considerations that capitalism is not condemned by the Church as intrinsically perverse, as is communism. It is a system of government and economy in which a man’s religious and natural rights can be preserved, even if this is not always the case in practice. The right to private ownership guarantees, at least to some extent, a man’s right to raise his family according to the natural and divine law, to support the Church, to practice the true religion, to educate his children, to profess the Faith, all of which rights are denied by the collectivism practiced by communism. If it is true that socialist tendencies penetrating more and more into our modern societies undermine these rights progressively, this is not in itself the consequence of capitalism. Consequently, the Church can use, and even “baptize,” the capitalist system in a way that it cannot do for communism. An industrialist, a businessman, a property developer can all be good Catholics, provided that they observe the principles of justice and charity contained in the natural law. It would consequently be wrong to consider capitalism as inherently unjust, or consider that the state has the right to intervene and distribute wealth equally amongst all the citizens.

However, this being said, it must be remembered that modern, liberal capitalism cannot be accepted as such. It does have to be baptized. It is penetrated by gross materialism; unjust and disordered motives of pure profit; a refusal to consider the primacy of the common good; and by the principle of man’s economic, moral, and social independence that is so characteristic of liberalism and that has destroyed the Catholic spirit ever since the Protestant revolution.

If Pope Pius IX points out that communism is the fruit of Freemasonry, Archbishop Lefebvre also explains the obvious–namely, that the opposing vice of capitalism is also the outcome of Freemasonry, and that they share a similar liberalism and materialism, although in different degrees and different ways:

With the capitalist economic system, which is the fruit of the French Revolution, the same people distilled the poison of this so-called freedom, because behind it–as the Pope says–were the secret societies. It was they who broke with every social structure that existed to protect the workers: the corporations, the guilds….All was broken at the time of the Revolution. The worker then found himself standing alone face to face with his employers; and at the same time unrestricted freedom was granted: “liberal” economy, freedom of trade, freedom of industry, etc. Clearly those who possessed money profited from the situation to accumulate immense fortunes at the expense of the workers, who found themselves defenseless….All these sufferings and injustices are the fruit of the modern errors…that had been propagated initially by the Protestants, and then by the Revolution: the liberal spirit, that gave total freedom to trade and industry, whereas before there had been rules. (Against the Heresies, pp. 317-18)

Let us not, then, be deceived either by collectivist or by capitalist propaganda. It is only by a profoundly supernatural spirit that we can begin to rebuild a Catholic social fabric. For it is not by redistribution but only by grace that the diabolical vice of liberalism can be rooted out of our souls, and that a private and unequal but just sharing in the goods of this world can prepare our souls, and our children’s souls, for eternity.


Fr. Peter Scott was ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. After assignments as seminary professor, US District Superior, and Rector of Holy Cross Seminary in Goulburn, Australia, he is presently Headmaster of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy in Wilmot, Ontario, Canada. Those wishing answers may please send their questions to Q & A in care of Angelus Press, 2915 Forest Ave., Kansas City, MO 64109.