Parishioners sit distant from one another during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. John Catholic Church on York Street in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is asking Maine Catholics to choose alternatives to the the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because abortion-derived cell lines were used in its development.

The announcement comes days after the FDA granted emergency authorization of the vaccine, allowing the state to receive thousands of doses and expand its vaccine drive.

Bishop Robert Deeley said that if an “ethically irreproachable” vaccine is not available, then it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics receive a vaccine with connection to abortion-derived cell lines. However, with the state offering both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, he urged Catholics to choose those alternatives instead.

Back in December, Deeley encouraged all Catholics to receive either Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after they were deemed “ethical” and had only a “remote connection” to aborted fetal tissue.

Last week, the state switched to an age-based vaccination plan with ages of 60 and 69 becoming eligible for vaccinations this week, 50 and up in April, 40 and up in May, 30 and up in June and younger Mainers after that. On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills announced that more than 52,000 Maine teachers and child care providers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Earlier last month, Deely spoke out against Mills’ order dialing back restrictions to indoor religious gatherings, calling them “completely unacceptable.”

The limit was raised to five people per 1,000 square feet or 50, whichever is greater. Previously, no more than 50 people could gather in a Maine house of worship.

However, Deeley asked that Mills permit churches to fill up to 25 percent, citing that no virus outbreaks have been traced to any of Maine’s Catholic Masses. Several churches across the state, including Protestant churches in Brooks, Calais and Sanford, have been linked to large virus outbreaks.