An Italian priest who shunned COVID-19 vaccines over the false belief that they contain “aborted embryos” has died at the age of 51 after battling coronavirus for several weeks.
Don Paolo Romeo had resisted pleas to get vaccinated from friends and colleagues who tried to talk sense into him, according to the L’Unione Sarda newspaper.
Romeo, who served as parish priest at Santo Stefano Abbey in Genoa, had clung to the conspiracy theory espoused by followers of French Catholic Archbishop Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre: that COVID-19 vaccines are made using cells from aborted embryos.
(This claim is false and has been debunked even by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which noted in a statement released in January that “neither Pfizer nor Moderna used an abortion-derived cell line in the development or production of the vaccine.”) Fetal cell lines, which are cloned copies of cells taken from elective abortions that were performed decades ago, were used in the testing of vaccines and have frequently been used for the testing of widely used drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin.
But even the Vatican has stressed that COVID-19 vaccines are “morally acceptable” and “can be used in good conscience” during the pandemic.
Romeo refused to be swayed, however, and he continued to celebrate Mass despite coronavirus infections spreading. He was diagnosed with the virus in January and was admitted to a hospital near his church after his health rapidly deteriorated, according to local reports.
The Santo Stefano Abbey paid tribute to him on social media after his passing, writing Monday that he “has risen to heaven.”
“May the Lord reward him for all the good he has done here on this Earth and may he forgive his shortcomings if there were any.”
The priest’s death comes as Italy’s Catholic military chaplain publicly railed against a former Vatican ambassador’s “conspiracy theories” about COVID-19 and calls to resist vaccine mandates. Archbishop Santo Marcianò, in a letter to the country’s armed forces Monday, urged them to ignore the ravings of the “former apostolic nuncio” encouraging them not to get vaccinated.
Though he did not name Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in the letter, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States was widely believed to be the subject. Viganò made international headlines in 2018 after calling on Pope Francis to resign over sex abuse in the church, but more recently he has been on a tear about the pandemic supposedly being a plot by a “globalist oligarchy” to enslave humanity. He recently addressed protesters in Rome and told them to defy vaccine mandates.
That has not worked out too well for other members of the Catholic Church who fell ill. Cardinal Raymund Burke, who spewed conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines and referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus,” was placed on a ventilator after falling ill with the virus last year. He survived but admitted during a Mass in December that he has still not made a full recovery.