MONTSERRAT, Spain — Sister Teresa Forcades came to public notice years ago for her unflinching liberal views: an outspoken Roman Catholic nun whose pronouncements ran counter to the church’s positions on same-sex marriage and abortion.
She became a fixture on Spanish television, appearing in her nun’s habit to advocate independence for her native region of Catalonia, and to debate other hot-button topics, including vaccines. She had trained as a doctor, partly in the United States and argued that vaccinations might one day pose a danger to a free society.
Now a decade later, with the coronavirus having swept the world, she believes that day is here. She is warning against the use of coronavirus vaccines, even as scientists and elected leaders worry that anti-vaccine sentiment could threaten Europe’s recovery from the pandemic.
“It’s always important that criticism is possible, to have dissenting voices,” she said of her views, which center as much on her doubts about the vaccines as her right to question them in public. “The answer cannot be that in the time of a crisis, society cannot allow the criticism — it’s precisely then that we need it.”
killed more than three million people and ravaged global economies.
In the world of vaccine skeptics, Sister Teresa, who was born in 1966 to a nurse and a commercial agent, is hard to categorize. She acknowledges that some vaccines are beneficial, but opposes making them mandatory. Her misgivings about coronavirus vaccines largely stem from her view that pharmaceutical companies are not to be trusted, and the clinical trials were rushed.
She draws credibility from her nun’s habit and medical training, which has made her especially appealing to conspiracy theorists and far right groups that seek to undermine public confidence in vaccines by spreading half truths that are sometimes mixed with facts, nuanced and delivered by people with credentials that give their voice the imprimatur of authority.
José M. Martín-Moreno, a professor of preventive medicine and public health in Spain who has been critical of Sister Teresa, said she cloaks her challenges to prevailing scientific wisdom under the guise of scientific debate and her right to criticize.
blood clots in a small number of people who received the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines has led some governments to pause or limit both shots — and to increased vaccine hesitancy.
In the Spanish capital, Madrid, in the days after the government raised the age threshold for the AstraZeneca shot over concerns about its effectiveness, only a third of people showed up for their vaccine appointments, officials said. The country is at the start of what appears to be a fourth wave of infections.
Despite her relative isolation in the convent, Sister Teresa’s message is increasingly reaching people across Spain.
A 120,000-member group in Spain known for far-right conspiracies often spreads her controversial advice about coronavirus treatments on the Telegram messaging app. Another popular group that even denies the existence of the pandemic recently praised a Facebook video in which she questioned the safety of coronavirus vaccines.
Sister Teresa, though staunchly leftist, doesn’t distance herself from right-wing followers, calling her distrust of some vaccines a “transversal question able to reach a wide spectrum of people.”