ROME, March 7, 2013, ( – The members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) met at the Vatican late last month for their annual General Assembly under the shadow of the looming resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. spoke with several PAV members, who all expressed their gratitude to the pontiff for what one member said were his “monumental” contributions to the area of bioethics and the defense of human life.

Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), said that any analysis of Benedict XVI’s contributions to the life issues must necessarily take into consideration the pope’s roughly 25 years serving as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).


During his tenure as prefect, the CDF issued the document Donum Vitae, which Haas described as the “gold standard with regard to addressing the issues that arise regarding human life.” Donum Vitae, or the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,” laid out many of the principles routinely used by Catholic theologians to assess bioethical developments. 

Haas also pointed to then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s role as theological advisor to Pope John Paul II in shaping the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, another document that is considered by many as a cornerstone of the pro-life movement worldwide. 

In fact, the continuity of approach between Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI was a theme that repeatedly came up in conversations with PAV members.

According to Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Benedict “continued the legacy of Blessed John Paul II by deepening the message about life.”

He too pointed to Benedict’s role in shaping Evangelium Vitae as one of the highlights of his career in terms of his contributions to the life issues. “We always heard that he was very active in the preparation” of that encylical, said Doerflinger.

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But Doerflinger also highlighted what he said was Benedict XVI’s talent for taking the life issues and “making connections with other values that people hold.” He recalled a speech that the pope gave before the German parliament, at which were present many Green Party members, in which the pontiff spoke of the “ecology of man” and “how the care for creation that we show for the birds and trees has to be applied to man himself.”

“And so he’s been very sophisticated and very wise in presenting the message about life in a lot of different contexts and deepening their understanding,” said Doerflinger.

Fr. Scott Borgmann, the organizing secretary for the PAV, expressed gratitude for all the encouragement that Pope Benedict has given the Academy over the years, particularly his encouragement for the deepening of scientific research by Academy members. 

“Again and again he’s talked about faith and science both being gifts of God, and so they’ll never go against each other,” said Fr. Borgmann, “because God gave them both to us and they’re goods for our benefit, for the benefit of humanity.”

“His generosity and our ability to serve him during this time has been a privilege,” he said.

Fr. Shehan Boquet, the president of Human Life International, said he was very “saddened” by the announcement of the pope’s resignation. “And then at the same time a feeling of great gratitude and great appreciation for his life,” he said, “for not just the years of his pontificate, but his whole life, serving the Church, giving himself to the Church.” 

“He has been a true, true defender and promoter of the culture of life,” said Boquet.

“When you read those beautiful encyclicals on hope, on love, you really see the life issues come to bear,” he said. “It’s powerful. I really am grateful. I use those encyclicals and so much of his writings to promote the culture of life and to speak of them.” 

Boquet expressed particular appreciation for the encyclial Spe Salvi (“Saved by Hope”), which he recalled bringing one day to a gathering of pro-life activists following the re-election of President Barack Obama.

“Everyone was kind of reminiscing, ‘this is going to be hard, this is going to be difficult.’ And we talked about the encyclial. And we all walked out saying, ‘ok, we got our marching orders,'” he said. “We all need that reminder of where hope comes from.” 

Asked about the future and his feelings about the election of Benedict XVI’s successor, Richard Doerflinger responded, “I’m not anxious at all.” 

“I think this is all in the hands of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I wouldn’t presume to have any personal opinions on the matter. The Holy Spirit will help us pick the right person.” 

Fr. Boquet agreed. “Now we have to trust the Lord and say, 'Lord, please raise up for us Peter, to move all this forward, to build on what Pope Benedict has done and to carry us further into this confrontation with the culture,'” he said.