Catholic religious leaders across the United States are supporting coronavirus vaccination and in many instances discouraging demands for religious exemptions by congregants (though a few bishops have made exemption letter templates available).

In doing so, they are following the lead of Pope Francis, who gave approval to the recently developed vaccines, and determined that the role of tissue from 50-year-old aborted fetuses in the production and testing of some of them did not negate their acceptability, in the absence of a morally perfect vaccine. Catholic doctrine enables this judgment, because it distinguishes between “material” vs. formal cooperation with evil when it can be justified “for proportionally serious reasons” — in creating lifesaving medicines. Francis has also encouraged the Catholic faithful to get vaccinated, calling it “an act of love.”

Such a position shouldn’t be surprising. The American Catholic Church has historically come down on the side of public health, even when doing so has violated Catholic teachings. During the 1918 flu pandemic, American church leaders even temporarily sacrificed a central observance of Catholicism — the Mass — to slow the spread of the disease. Their decision illustrated how, for the church, preserving lives, even through imperfect means, has taken precedence over other deeply held beliefs.