Finally, after a long wait, on Tuesday March 13 the list was released naming the new members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, all of papal appointment. Still missing is the list of the executive board, also of papal appointment, as is that of the “corresponding” members, the designation of which belongs to the president of the Academy, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. But the main part is done.
Compared with the 132 members of the Academy with various title who were all dismissed on December 31 of 2016, the current members number 45 plus 5 “ad honorem.” Those confirmed are 33, the new are 17, and their names together with their titles are on this list released by the press office of the Holy See:
So those crossed off the list are quite a few. 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.
Among these is German philosopher Robert Spaemann, a longstanding friend of Joseph Ratzinger; the Australian philosopher John Finnis, the author together with Germain Grisez of an “open letter” to Pope Francis highly critical of “Amoris Laetitia”; the Englishman Luke Gormally; the Austrian Josef Maria Seifert and Wlfgang Waldstein.
Nor has there been any confirmation for pro-life activists of international prominence like the Guatemalan Maria Mercedes Arzú de Wilson and the Venezuelan Christine De Marcellus Vollmer, among the first called by John Paul II to be part of the Academy, which is now left shorthanded on this front.
Also gone are three representatives of eastern Europe who grew up in the school of Karol Wojtyla and have remained absolutely faithful to him, like Poland’s Andrzej Szostek, the Ukrainian Mieczyslaw Grzegocki, and the Czech Jaroslav Sturma, a psychologist and psychotherapist staunchly opposed to “gender” ideology.
Just as a cross has been marked over Etienne Kaboré of Burkina Faso, perfectly in line with the positions of the African Church on marriage, family, and sexuality, seen at work during the last two synods.
Lacking from Europe are the contributions of France’s Bernard Kerdelhue, a disciple and great admirer of the Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune, first president of the Academy, and of the Belgians Michael Schooyans and Philippe Schepens, a fervent defender of medical ethics inspired by Hippocrates. While among the Latin American academics there will no longer be the Chilean Patricio Ventura-Junca, very close to another former president of the Academy, Juan de Dios Vial Correa, his fellow countryman.
From the United States there will no longer be the contribution of Thomas William Hilgers, a gynecologist who has worked extensively on natural methods of fertility regulation. Perfectly faithful to “Donum Vitae” and “Humanae Vitae” and firmly opposed to contraception and “in vitro” fertilization, this is probably the reason why he has been excluded, in view of a revision of the Church’s positions on these issues about which rumors have been circulating at the Vatican with growing insistence.
But the reconfirmations and new names are also indicative of a change of direction.
Among those confirmed, the five new members “ad honorem” represent an obligatory tribute to the past, in the persons of cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Elio Sgreccia, of Birthe Lejeune, vice-president of the Foundation that bears the name of Jérôme Lejeune, her husband and first president of the Academy in 1994, and of the other two former presidents, Juan de Dios Vial Correa from Chile, and Ignacio Carrasco de Paula from Spain.
Also obligatory were the reconfirmations of Dutch cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk and of Sydney archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher, both “conservative.”
But if one looks at the other names it can be noted that the former “corresponding” members now promoted as “ordinary” members are among the most docile to the openness of Pope Francis and to the new course headed by Archbishop Paglia. Among these can be cited Canadian bishop Noël Simard, Argentine bishop Alberto German Bochatey, the Mexican Rodrigo Guerra López, the Japanese Catholic Etsuko Akiba.
There has also been confirmation for personalities of substance, including financial, appreciated for their skills of irreplaceability and adaptability, like the supreme head of the Knights of Columbus, the American Carl A. Anderson, for many years a generous sponsor both of the Academy and of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, or the Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Mené, president of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation and a financer of his beatification process.
Among the 17 new appointments, three are non-Christians: the Japanese Nobel laureate in medicine Shinya Yamanaka, the Tunisian Muslim Mohamed Haddad, and the Israeli Jew Avraham Steinberg, director of the medical ethics unit at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and director of the editorial committee of the Talmudic Encyclopedia. Archbishop Paglia has preferred this latter to another Jew, Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome and also a physician and expert on bioethics, vice-president of the Italian national bioethics committee, but whose positions are more conservative and sometimes explicitly critical of Pope Francis.
The "Catholic Herald" has reported that one of the new members of the Pontifical Academy For Life, Nigel Biggar, an Anglican and a professor at Oxford, is an open supporter of abortion until "18 weeks after conception."
Another indicative “new entry” is that of Angelo Vescovi, a controversial figure in scientific circles but with the closest of ties to Paglia since he was bishop of Terni, where he helped him to create a study center on stem cells and favored his appointment as scientific director of the Home for the Relief of the Suffering in San Giovanni Rotondo founded by Padre Pio.
But perhaps the most emblematic new name of the Academy’s new course is that of moral theologian Maurizio Chiodi, a professor at the theological faculty of Milan and of northern Italy. Chiodi has been speaking out for some time in critical terms on important points of “Humanae Vitae,” “Donum Vitae,” and “Evangelium Vitae.” He is also in evident discontinuity with the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” of John Paul II, while vice-versa he appears to be in harmony with the current openness to a new “discernment” on questions such as contraception, in vitro fertilization, sexual orientation, “gender,” passive euthanasia, assisted suicide.
With more prudence, other pillars of the Academy who have upheld antiethical positions in the past are also showing themselves willing to support this transformation. This is the case of Francesco D'Agostino, a philosopher of law and honorary president of the Italian national bioethics committee; of Adriano Pessina, director of the Bioethics Center of the Catholic University of Milan; of John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in the United States and a friend of Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the dicastery for laity, family, and life; of Ángel Rodríguez Luño, professor of moral theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a consultant for the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, who holds a great deal of clout with Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller.
With a Pontifical Council for Life set up this way, the opposition that still takes its inspiration from Lejeune, from Sgreccia, from Caffarra, from Saint John Paul II, from Benedict XVI, will not have an easy life.