‘The term ‘life’ must be redefined,’ new head of Vatican Life Academy declares
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, 74, presented the speech at Loyola Marymount, a private Jesuit university in Los Angeles, yesterday. After introducing the pontiff’s January 6 letter Humana Communitas, the prelate explained that Francis wishes both the Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute, of which Paglia is grand chancellor, to work “more broadly.”
“The Academy in particular is to become more and more a place of competent and respectful meeting and dialogue among experts, including those from other religious traditions as well as proponents of world views the Academy needs to know better in order to widen its horizons,” he said.
Paglia promised that both foundations would “protect and promote” human life and assured “friends” and “enemies” that “our dialogue with others who do not share our understanding of God’s fruitful love and of the nature of the human family and its challenges, does not mean that we are abandoning Catholic orthodoxy.”
But Paglia also made it clear that the pope wants them to widen their horizons.
“We must also make it clear that the Pope wants the Academy, and the Institute, to (1) widen its scope of reflection, not limiting itself to addressing ‘specific situations of ethical, social or legal conflict,’ (2) articulate an anthropology that sets the practical and theoretical premises for ‘conduct consistent with the dignity of the human person,’ and (3) make sure it has the tools to critically examine ‘the theory and practice of science and technology as they interact with life, its meaning and its value,’” he said.
One widening Pope Francis and Paglia envision is a rejection of absolute norms regarding human life and a redefinition of what it means.
“[Francis] warns us that it is risky to look at human life in a way that detaches it from experience and reduces it to biology or to an abstract universal, separated from relationships and history,” Paglia said.
“Rather, the term ‘life’ must be redefined, moving from an abstract conception to a ‘personal’ dimension: life is people, men and women, both in the individuality of each person and in the unity of the human family.”
Notably, Paglia referred only to the “family” of the Blessed Trinity and to the “human family” — i.e the human race — but not once to the kinship groups most commonly known as “families.” He also decried a “schism” between the individual and the human community and warned that technology is “becoming” a threat to human life.
The archbishop briefly mentioned the controversies around the changes that have swept the pro-life institutions originally founded by John Paul II. In October 2016, Pope Francis promulgated new statutes for the academy, which included the dismissal of its life members and the inclusion of new members of dubious orthodoxy. Then, in September 2017, Pope Francis refounded and renamed the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
Most recently, the students and faculty of the “John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences” were dismayed to discover that the entire teaching staff had been temporarily suspended, two of its tenured professors dismissed, and advertised courses eliminated.
Paglia’s response was that the “theological basis” of Humana Communitas will inevitably “overcome” concerns.
“In his letter, the Holy Father attempted to give us such a solid and loving theological basis for the work of the Academy that we will be able to address and overcome the concerns and the hesitancies that have greeted the renewed structure of the Academy (and I might add of its sister entity, the John Paul II Institute as well),” the archbishop said.
Paglia’s address closely resembles a speech he gave earlier this year at Sacred Heart Catholic University in Milan.