NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre has been reaching out to and discouraging parishioners from taking Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, if possible.

They’re objecting to the vaccine because they say cell lines derived from fetuses aborted decades ago were used in its development, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Monday.

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“As a pro-life Catholic, yes I would avoid Johnson & Johnson,” one woman said.

“Keep religion out of this,” said another.

“The church should get involved,” one man said.

COVID VACCINE

The vaccine’s connections to abortion are remote, according to medical experts.

“The controversy is because of the connection between some of the cell lines and the perceived or real use of any previous fetal tissue,” said Northwell Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Battinelli.

The diocese and bishop did not go so far as to prohibit the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but they are strongly urging against it. On moral grounds, Pfizer and Moderna are preferred, they said.

In a statement to CBS2, Johnson & Johnson said, “Our vaccine contains no fetal tissue whatsoever.”

The full statement reads:

In developing a COVID-19 vaccine, our goal has always been to save as many lives as possible. We’re proud to bring a single-shot vaccine to the world in record time and contribute to ending this pandemic.

Our COVID-19 vaccine is made using a harmless cold-like virus into which we insert a piece of the coronavirus spike protein. It teaches the immune system to recognize the COVID virus and protect against infection.

Our vaccine contains no fetal tissue whatsoever.

We employ a technology platform using cells that were engineered and grown in labs from a single cell more than 30 years ago into a fully engineered cell line. This cell line enables us to rapidly manufacture hundreds of millions of single-shot COVID vaccines that can be transferred and stored without the need for deep freezing.

Some of the brightest minds from within our company and from across the global scientific community have worked for years to develop breakthrough treatments to some of the most devastating diseases facing humanity. As we do this, we hold ourselves to the highest biomedical ethical standards – even more so in the face of a pandemic.

The church teaches that corpses of all human embryos and fetuses, directly aborted or not, must be treated with the same dignity and respect as all other human remains.

“I have a lot of mixed feelings about the vaccine,” one person said.

“I’m Catholic and I do believe in what he’s saying,” said another.

The stance of the diocese conflicts with that of the Vatican. Pope Francis said all vaccines are derived from fetuses, some more, some less. But that all brands are acceptable.

“I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine. It is the moral choice because it is about your life, but also the lives of others,” said Pope Francis in a statement.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

“I’m pretty religious. I think it still should be what I choose,” one person told McLogan.

“I think the bishop should stay out of medicine,” another said.

Other Catholic groups said any vaccine is an act of charity toward one’s neighbor in limiting a deadly disease.

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The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island criticized leaders who cast doubt on science, calling the argument “morally bankrupt” and “irresponsible.”

Jennifer McLogan