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Pope Francis guts Vatican pro-life academy of members chosen by St. John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, Italy, June 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – In his clearing out and re-stacking of the Vatican’s highest pro-life institution, Pope Francis has not invited many former members specifically chosen by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for their pro-life-and-family credentials as well as their fidelity to Catholic teaching. Many of those not invited back had previously been openly critical of the direction the Academy was being pushed in recent years.

At the same time, however, Pope Francis appointed a pro-abortion theologian who has expressed support for euthanasia in certain circumstances.

Former Academy member Christine De Marcellus Vollmer, who was not given another term, told LifeSiteNews that the new appointments reveal a “great lack” of understanding in Catholic leadership regarding the current attacks facing human life. 

“They don't seem to understand the realities of the threats to life,” she said. 

I don't see any of the important people who are knowledgeable and fighting pornography,” she added. “This is a huge lack.”

Pope Francis made the appointment of 45 ordinary members and five honorary members to the Pontifical Academy for Life, or Pontificia Academiae Pro Vita (PAV), on May 16, and the Vatican released the pope’s choices Tuesday.

The Pope had released new statutes for the PAV last November, in which members were no longer required to sign a declaration that they uphold the Church’s pro-life teachings, while he also expanded the PAV’s mandate to include a focus on the environment.

Of the new appointees, only 28 of the preceding 139 members have been reappointed, the National Catholic Register’s Ed Pentin notes. This adds 23 new members, while 112 academics, including some founding members - most of who had been chosen by Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI – were left off the PAV roster.

Previous members not asked back not only represent important pro-life voices, but some who have also been critical of the Pope's agenda. 

“So those crossed off the list are quite a few,” writes veteran Vatican reporter Sandro Magister. “And among them are a few scholars of great authoritativeness, who, however, have distinguished themselves in publicly criticizing the new moral and practical paradigms that have entered into vogue with the pontificate of Francis.”

The PAV was founded by Pope St. John Paul II and Professor Jerome Lejeune in 1994 to promote and defend life in the particular areas of bioethics and Catholic moral theology.

Its mission has encompassed the areas of procreation, in vitro fertilization, gene therapy, euthanasia, and abortion.

Concern over where the Academy is going

Past members have expressed worry over the Academy’s direction, including whether academy president Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia should remain its head. The archbishop has defended the course the Academy is following in a recent interview with the National Catholic Register's Ed Pentin. 

In a June 13 statement announcing the new members, Archbishop Paglia said Pope Francis had chosen academics of the “highest professional standing” from 27 countries and that they were “outstanding in diverse fields of human knowledge.”

The archbishop said as well in his statement that the new ordinary members represent the academy’s “passion for human life.”

But Magister said the reconfirmations to the PAV along with the new names are “indicative of a change of direction.”

Who’s gone?

In his column, Magister lists those who have not been invited back to the Academy, including: Australian philosopher John Finnis, who along with Germain Grisez wrote an “open letter” last December to Pope Francis that criticized various portions of Amoris Laetitia (AL); German philosopher Robert Spaemann, a longtime friend of Pope Benedict XVI who has also been critical of AL; Professor Luke Gormally of England, a signatory to a document requesting the pope remove problematic text on contraception from the preparatory document for the 2015 Synod of the Family; Austrian Professor Josef Maria Seifert and Finnish Professor Wolfgang Waldstein, both cosigners of a statement affirming Church teaching on marriage in response to the confusion generated by AL.

Also not asked back were three eastern Europeans who were influenced greatly by John Paul II, said Magister, and who have remained faithful to him. These include Poland’s Andrzej Szostek, Ukrainian Mieczyslaw Grzegocki, and the Czech Jaroslav Sturma, a psychologist and psychotherapist strongly opposed to gender ideology.

Magister also noted that other voices of orthodoxy in Catholic ethics were not invited back to the Academy, including France’s Bernard Kerdelhue, Belgian's Michael Schooyans and Philippe Schepens, Chilean's Patricio Ventura-Junca and Juan de Dios Vial Correa, and from the U.S. Dr. Thomas Hilgers.

Pro-life activists of international prominence such as Guatemalan Maria Mercedes Arzú de Wilson and Venezuelan Christine De Marcellus Vollmer were also notably not reinvited back. 

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, however, was reappointed, as was Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, though the cardinal remains as an honorary member of the academy with no influence on its work. Cardinal Caffarra is one of the four cardinals to have submitted the dubia to Pope Francis requesting clarification on AL. 

Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, is also a positive reappointment. The cardinal contributed to the "Eleven Cardinals Speak" book, which gave an introduction to the October 2015 Synod on the Family and discussed the pertinent issues of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

The greatest concern over the new appointments, however, has been Pope Francis’s selection of Nigel Biggar, an Anglican professor of moral and pastoral theology at the University of Oxford. Biggar has supported legalized abortion up to 18 weeks and expressed qualified support for euthanasia.

Biggar had said in 2011 it is “not clear that a human fetus is the same kind of thing as an adult or a mature human being, and therefore deserves quite the same treatment,” reported Standpoint magazine.

“It then becomes a question of where we draw the line, and there is no absolutely cogent reason for drawing it in one place over another,” Biggar said.

“I would be inclined to draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception,” he continued, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness.”

Then, in 2012, when Biggar was the keynote speaker for an event at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he said that "it is not true that all abortion is equivalent to murder."

When asked by LifeSiteNews about his abortion views Biggar stood by them and said since he is not Catholic it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the Church's position. 

Biggar, however, went on to tell LifeSiteNews he thought he’d been picked for his work in the areas of euthanasia and assisted suicide, stating they were in alignment with the Church.

“I believe that the reason for my recent appointment lies in my sustained work on the issues of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide,” he stated. “On those issues my conclusions are consonant with the Church's.”

But Professor Luke Gormally, a former member of the Academy from the U.K., said that although Biggar opposes legalization of euthanasia primarily on pragmatic grounds, he has no moral objection in principle to euthanizing some people.

In a review of Biggar's 2004 book titled Aiming to Kill: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia, reviewer David Jones wrote for the periodical New Blackfriars

Biggar finds the distinction of ‘biological’ human life and ‘biographical’ human life both logically defensible and morally relevant. If someone’s brain is irreparably damaged so that he or she cannot think, then according to Biggar we should conclude that he or she is no longer a human ‘person’ and no longer part of the human community. Biggar even describes such individuals as ‘irretrievably inaccessible to human care’ so that it means nothing to protect them from being killed nor therefore (and this is my deduction) to visit, clothe or feed them.

Vollmer called Biggar's appointment "scandalous" in Pentin’s report, while Professor Luke Gormally, a British former academy member, said the appointment was “shocking.” 

Magister also notes that one of the 17 new appointments is Fr. Maurizio Chiodian, an Italian moral theologian and Professor who has openly criticized Catholic teaching on life issues. 

Father Chiodi has spoken critically for some time on important points of landmark encyclicals including “Humanae Vitae,” “Donum Vitae,” and “Evangelium Vitae,” Magister said. 

And he is also in an obvious break with John Paul II’s encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” Magister continued, while he seems to be in agreement with the present openness to a new “discernment” on issues such as contraception, in vitro fertilization, sexual orientation, “gender,” passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“With a Pontifical Council for Life set up this way, the opposition that still takes its inspiration from Lejeune, from (former Academy member Cardinal Elio) Sgreccia, from Caffarra, from Saint John Paul II, from Benedict XVI, will not have an easy life,” said Magister. 

The academy said in its June 13 statement that its governing council will appoint corresponding members and young researchers (a new membership category created via Pope Francis’s new statutes), and therefore “fill out” the academy’s membership.

Pope Francis is set to open the Academy’s ordinary assembly October 4-6 at the Vatican, when he will “constitute the official launch of the renewed academy.”

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