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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia


June 26, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia has said more about the new orientation of the profoundly restructured Pontifical Academy for Life in a lengthy interview with the French weekly, La Vie, scoffing at fears that the Academy willed by Pope Saint John Paul II would cease defending life “from the first moment of conception through to the last breath of life.”

“Nothing and nobody will ever change that clear orientation,” he told La Vie. But both the interviewers and the interviewee agreed that something new is in the making since Paglia replaced Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula as head of the Academy in July 2016. The magazine wrote that “it’s the state of mind that has changed.”

This is evident in the manner in which Paglia spoke of abortion and contraception in his interview with La Vie.

The themes to be tackled by the refurbished PAL under Paglia will go further than the “traditional” culture of life and culture of death issues such as abortion, contraception, euthanasia, assisted procreation, and so forth. “Today, we need, as regards life, a wise and holistic thinking that can show the meaning of life in a globalized, hyper-technological world that is characterized by intolerable inequality,” he said.

Paglia went on to justify the Academy’s expansion to include new, non-Catholic members. “In order to achieve this, it is necessary to increase the numbers of people implied and to widen the scope of its battles: We must all together treat the big issues that characterize our times, so as patiently to reach a consensus that is as broad as possible.”

SIGN THE PETITION: Archbishop Paglia: Please resign as head of the Vatican's Academy for Life!

This is quite a revolution for an institution that was founded to focus on right to life issues in the continuity of Evangelium Vitae. The protection of the sanctity of innocent life is something very different, even if it is complementary, from tackling poverty, social problems and the trend toward globalization. The same logic presides over the Holy See’s readiness to work with population controllers to tackle “global warming” and “biodiversity” – such as Paul Ehrlich, who was invited to speak on this last theme at a recent symposium of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences on the grounds of the Vatican. When such issues are placed on the same plane in order to find “consensus,” something obviously has to give.

The insistence on “inequalities” should be a clue: It is the language of the international institutions, the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Economic Forum and others who are working to shift riches from the North to the South. As recently as Wednesday, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences received its new head, German-born Joachim von Braun, a professor of Economy and Technological innovation at the University of Bonn. His focus is on poverty, malnutrition, and natural resources, and he has participated as a supervisor at the Davos World Economic Forum.

It all forms a pattern.

“The change of direction of the Institute is emblematic of Francis’ pontificate,” La Vie writes about the PAL. “Not a doctrinal revolution but a will to ‘come out’ (or ‘come forth’) in order to become audible again by the rest of the world without giving the impression that the Church is ‘moralizing’ while at the same time abstaining from selling evangelical radicality on the cheap.”

La Vie, a Catholic magazine that was called La Vie catholique until 1977 when it shed that adjective in its own “going forth,” does not hide its complacency toward Paglia and the announced changing of spirit of the Pontifical Academy for Life. It speaks of the “violent attacks which have been aimed” at the PAL “for several months now on the part of conservative circles and by “detractors” whom Paglia has been asking to “read his numerous position statements on the subject” of defending life.

The magazine recognizes that the PAL membership has been profoundly changed, with 20 of 45 members being new arrivals. They underscore the nomination of Anne-Marie Pelletier, a French university professor specializing in Bible studies who was very enthused about Amoris Laetitia and its welcoming attitude to people with “battered lives and destroyed loves,” people “who didn’t know how or who weren’t able to stick to their promise of fidelity.”

Paglia explained to La Vie that he has been expressly asked by Pope Francis to engage in cordial and constructive dialogue with other academic institutions, “including ecumenical and interreligious circles.” Asked specifically about Nigel Biggar, the Anglican professor who is open to abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy, as to whether his nomination is a witness to a “will to confront the doctrine of the Church with different, sometimes even contradictory forms of thinking,” Paglia replied:

The candidacy of Professor Biggar was proposed directly by the primate of the Anglican Church, Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, who was asked these last months to designate a representative who would be welcomed into the studies and research group. The interview to which you allude and that raised a certain amount of controversy deserves to be read in its entirety: Professor Biggar declares himself inclined – faced with a violent supporter of abortion – to limit decriminalization of abortion to the 18th week starting at conception, so as – in his own words – to at least maintain a strong legal barrier in order to defend social commitment in favor of the preservation of human life, also by establishing a legal ‘obstacle’ against the tendency that wants to turn the decision to ‘destroy human life’ into nothing more than an ‘ordinary event.’ The result of this reasoning certainly does not coincide with my personal point of view and even less with that of the Academy, but one must also take into account the direction in which Professor Biggar’s reasoning is going.

This is the second time – the first was in his interview with Andrea Tornielli on June 18 – that Paglia speaks of Biggar’s point of view that coincides “even less” with that of the Academy than with his own. Does this mean that Paglia is admitting that he is more liberal on the issue of abortion than the PAL itself?

In La Vie, Paglia goes on to repeat that Professor Biggar never published anything about abortion. “He is a specialist on end-of-life issues, a domain in which he has a point of view that is fully in line with that of the Catholic Church.”

As LifeSite pointed out after having interviewed Biggar on his appointment to the PAL – the academic had already been defended by Paglia on Twitter – this is simply not true. “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 that Biggar would allow some people to be euthanized who were so damaged that they could be excluded from being called ‘human.’”  

Paglia’s announcement in La Vie that the Pontifical Academy for Life will focus on the end of life and palliative care should therefore be considered with caution. He said:

As from this autumn, the Academy will propose moments of reflection on themes such as the human genome, the relationship between the brain and consciousness, the end of life. Also, a few weeks ago, we inaugurated a world project on palliative care (named PALLIFE) for which we are organizing an important event in Rome next February after a number of regional encounters in several continents. The main event that is awaiting us is certainly our next General Assembly that we will be holding in Rome from the 5th to the 7th of October. It will be opened by Pope Francis on this crucial theme: ‘Accompanying life. New responsibilities in the age of technology.’

In short, the issue of “brain death” will certainly be coming to the fore. Will that discussion involve Professor Biggar, for whom someone whose brains are “irreparably damaged so that he or she cannot think” – wrote a reviewer of his book on The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia – can no longer be considered a human person and must be considered to be “irretrievably inaccessible to human care?”

But that is not all. While Paglia’s La Vie interview simply repeats or reformulates previous answers to Edward Pentin’s and Andrea Tornielli’s questions for the National Catholic Register and La Stampa, the Academy’s president also expands on questions of moral and sexual ethics such as contraception. He says:

It is really a pity that the Lord Jesus’ message, which is full of humanity and has been preserved for millennia by the Christian community, should only be perceived from a moral viewpoint, almost exclusively the sexual moral viewpoint. Perhaps the Church should also carefully re-examine its commitment on this point as 'mother and educator' (Mater et Magistra). Today, there is in the new generations an immense hunger for meaningfulness and the questions that have always been asked are still present in the hearts of many. We are called to announce once again the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus as good news for all human life, the only framework in which one can also understand sexual morality that finds its source in no less than the evangelical radicality which reveals it. I hope that the upcoming Synod of the Youth will offer starting points and new paths.

Asked about the PAL’s intentions regarding the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Paglia replied:

The heart of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, that is, the value of human procreation, is a theme on which all must reflect very attentively today. That is why the 50th anniversary of Paul VI's text will be a good thing if it gives rise to numerous initiatives aiming to deepening its study, also in the light of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. While it has not yet decided on an initiative on this question or taken it up into its program, the Academy will follow attentively those initiatives that will come forward.

Some challenge the position of the Church and Humanae Vitae on abortion and contraception and others agree but think the reasoning of the encyclical should be “reviewed so as to be able to be heard.”

La Vie asked Paglia about his position. He replied:

It is important not to address issues such as abortion and contraception in a simplistic manner: they are two totally different things even if, sometimes, they arise from a same mentality of being closed to life and even if some contraceptive practices are in fact abortive. It is one thing egotistically to refuse the responsibility of conceiving a child, it is quite another to kill a fœtus in its mother’s womb. That said, each moral argument that is the result of a discernment whose objective it is to understand the will of God in history will always remain a cause for thought, and for new interpretations and clarifications that will make this argument more and more apt to show its evangelical qualities. On another plane, all this also requires taking into account cultural sensitivities and concrete practice, in order to achieve an intelligible orientation and efficient reception. I invite one and all to read and to further study paragraph 3 of Amoris Laetitia, in which the Pope goes into precise detail about this fundamental methodological aspect.

So “discernment” is going to be a thing once more, this time regarding abortion and contraception, which are in fact profoundly related in that they both of their nature seek to avoid the birth of a new human being willed by God and negate the procreative nature of the conjugal act.

As to Amoris Laetitia, paragraph 3, here is what it says:

Since ‘time is greater than space,’ I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us toward the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle … needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.’

If this is how the issues of contraception and abortion are going to be approached, heaven help us.


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