Monday February 8, 2010

Future of Pontifical Academy for Life at Stake as Members Meet in Closed Door Session

By Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

ROME, February 8, 2010 ( – Some members of the Pontifical Academy for Life are expressing fears for the future of the organization under its current head, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella. Their concerns come after a scandal last year in which the archbishop appeared to condone the abortion of Brazilian twins. (LSN) has been informed by the Academy that their annual congress, normally open to the public, has been cancelled this year in favor of a closed meeting of members. The PAV told LSN that the public will be welcomed back to the public congress next year, but this year’s session is restricted to members only for “study.”

In its early history, the PAV normally held meetings of the permanent and corresponding members only, but under the leadership of Archbishop Elio Sgreccia, now retired, the Academy held large congresses open to interested members of the public.

Some members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) have told LSN that they fear the so-called “Recife Affair” has irretrievably damaged the reputation of the Academy.

A year ago, Archbishop Fisichella published an article in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, harshly criticizing the actions of his fellow archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife, Brazil. Cardoso had warned those who planned to procure the abortion of unborn twins that they faced the automatic penalty of excommunication – an action for which the archbishop was blasted in the international media. Much of the same media subsequently reported, based upon Archbishop Fisichella’s remarks, that the Vatican was softening its stance on abortion.

The scandal, say sources, is causing “a climate of unease” among PAV members who say that Fisichella’s article, “based on erroneous and partial information,” clearly supported the doctors who aborted the unborn twins of a nine year-old rape victim whom the local church had been attempting to help.

The affair, said one member, a respected academic philosopher who has asked not to be identified, is exposing deep ideological problems in the PAV, a split that is causing a “loss of confidence.” Fisichella’s article, he said, created a “twist, doctrinal, moral and canonical” in the Academy.

The majority of the PAV members kept silent in the affair but, he said, some outright supported Fisichella, including some in the Roman Curia. Only a minority of PAV members “also protested against the support given [by Fisichella] to abortionists and against the attack on archbishop Cardoso.”

“The future of the academy is at stake,” he concluded.

The case was a cause célèbre for the abortion movement who used the plight of the mother, a nine year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather, as a weapon to attack the Catholic Church, claiming, against the statement of her doctors, that the girl’s life was threatened by the pregnancy. Pro-life leaders around the world condemned the abortion and praised Archbishop Cardoso, who later received an award for his defense of both the girl and her twin children. But the same leaders were shocked when Archbishop Fisichella’s article appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, in which he appeared to condemn, from the heart of the Vatican, not the abortionists but the pro-life action of Archbishop Cardoso.

Archbishop Fisichella, who wrote that his brother bishop had been “hasty” in his declaration of excommunication, implied that the doctors and the pro-abortion organization who conspired to kill the twin children did so in conscience. Despite repeated appeals from prominent pro-life leaders and PAV members, Fisichella has steadfastly refused to retract or clarify his article.

“Others deserve excommunication and our forgiveness, not those who enabled you to live and who will help you to recover your hope and trust – despite the presence of evil and the wickedness of many,” Fisichella wrote, addressing the 9-year-old girl.

When confronted by members of the PAV, he is reported to have disclaimed all responsibility by saying that the article had been written “on request.” Some in the pro-life movement speculated at the time that the article was part of a larger effort by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, which controls L’Osservatore Romano, to soften relations between the Vatican and the pro-abortion Obama administration.

Archbishop Fisichella has admitted that he had never contacted Archbishop Cardoso for information or details on the case. Even after the world’s secular press took up the story and the Recife diocese published a detailed correction to Fisichella’s article, Archbishop Cardoso was refused space by L’Osservatore Romano to answer Fisichella’s accusations.

The uproar did not die down until the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification that strongly reiterated the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and the complete inadmissibility of abortion.

Monsignor Michel Schooyans, the Belgian professor emeritus of the Catholic University of Louvain, a member of the PAV and a respected specialist in anthropology, political philosophy, and bioethics, strongly criticized Fisichella in an article, saying that the affair is one of “utmost gravity” for the Church. Schooyans said the Fisichella article had provided fuel to enemies both of the Church and the pro-life movement.

“In objective terms, … [the] article provides formidable backing to all who, in Latin America (Brazil, Santo Domingo, etc.) and elsewhere, are waging a campaign to legalise abortion, with the support of President Obama, the European Union, the IPPF and other NGOs,” he wrote.

Read more of LSN’s extensive coverage here.