Some are saying the Academy has “lost its way,” that the changes made by the pope “differ drastically” from its founding by Pope Saint John Paul II, or are an “attack” on the pro-life Academy’s mandate.
They question as well an apparent new prioritization of the temporal.
“It’s obvious that being ‘pro-life’ means, even for the academy, to rethink the semantic value of the term life, which cannot be reduced to a perspective that is uniquely bioethical,” Academy president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, said at a press conference.
“If we must be pro-life, we must be always, in every way, and everywhere pro-life,” he continued, according to a C-FAM report, citing Pope Francis.
Paglia also said there were no plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae next year.
Rather, the Academy is opening “new frontiers for debate,” he said, mentioning in particular the environment, immigration, and arms control.
The inaugural session of the revamped PAV, themed “Accompanying life. New responsibilities in the technological era,” was “demanding yet at the same time necessary,” the pope’s address said. The session, he said, was convened to take up “recent technological developments of life sciences” as they relate to “global humanism.”
And while Pope Francis gave a “powerful and unambiguous speech” to the PAV gathering Thursday in which he clearly urged opposition to gender ideology, concerns and criticisms remained among leading pro-life and family groups.
“The reformed Pontifical Academy for Life seems to be concerned primarily with ‘global humanism,’” said Maria Madise, international director for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and representative for Voice of the Family. “The new and ‘wider’ challenges of the Academy, presented by Pope Francis and echoed by the president of the Academy Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, include countering gender ideology but also combatting poverty, loneliness, the cult of self, lack of consideration for the environment, indeed virtually everything that may affect human life in one way or another.”
“This new program seems to differ drastically from the previous focus of the Academy,” Madise said, “which was expressed in the call of its founder, John Paul II, for ‘a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life.’”
Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn said, "The retooling of the Pontifical Academy for Life is yet another way the devil is burying the greatest abominations of our age.”
“The crimes of abortion, euthanasia, contraception and homosexuality, which Pope John Paul II called 'the Culture of Death,' far exceed the concerns of immigration, the environment and material poverty,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And yet this pontificate has seen fit to muddy the waters yet again and weaken Christian resolve to defend the sacredness of human life and the sanctity of the family."
“The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy for Science already exist for the purpose of addressing matters related to refugee resettlement and so-called climate change,” Hichborn noted, “so this change can only be interpreted as an attack on the PAV's original mandate."
The PAV was founded in 1994 by Pope St. John Paul II and Professor Jerome Lejeune to promote and defend life in the specific areas of bioethics and Catholic moral theology.
The mission of the academy — previously considered the Vatican’s main foothold for authentic pro-life voices in the Church — encompassed the subjects of procreation, in vitro fertilization, gene therapy, euthanasia, and abortion.
Pope Francis appointed 45 new ordinary members and five honorary members to the Academy in June.
Of the new appointees, just 28 of the preceding 139 members were reappointed. There are 23 new members after 112 previous members, including academics and founding members chosen by John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, were not asked back.
Among those members who were not reappointed were important pro-life voices, and also some who have also been critical of the pope's agenda.
The new PAV makeup also now includes non-Catholics and non-believers.
This was not what John Paul II intended
Former PAV member Judie Brown offered stiff criticism of the changes.
“As a former 15-year member of the Academy, and understanding Pope John Paul II's vision for it as a structure that would work to focus on the inalienable right to life, the dignity of every human being and the teachings of the Church in that regard, I am appalled at what the ‘new’ academy is doing,” Brown told LifeSiteNews.
“It is despicable to think that the Academy has become foot soldiers for the progressives in the Church,” she said. “It is unthinkable that environmentalism and immigration questions are now on an equal footing with respect for and protection of the vulnerable human beings who are threatened and killed daily around the world.”
“Not only that, but for Paglia to outrageously mention that the Academy will NOT celebrate the Church's most profound document, Humanae Vitae, really says a lot about what is going on in the Vatican these days,” Brown added. “It is not good and I fear St. John Paul II and Professor Jerome Lejeune are spinning in their graves. The Academy has totally lost its way and I thank God every day that I departed when I did because at this point I would have had to resign in protest.”
Madise said the new focus of the Academy might be reasonable, if its primary task had already been accomplished.
“However,” she said, “with rampant abortion, which has killed more people than all the wars in recorded human history, widespread use of contraception, including abortifacient forms, the problems that prompted the creation of the Academy are far from being solved.”
“Tragically,” Madise continued, “the evil of abortion, the deliberate killing of innocent children, a heinous crime that calls out to heaven for punishment, seems to receive less attention from the new Academy than poverty and the environment.”
With the Academy’s new priorities, she questioned who would be the Church’s voice in defense of life in the face of the greatest attack on life.
“When we lose sight of what is truly evil, we also lose sight of what is truly good,” Madise added. “If the Pontifical Academy for Life does not prioritise abortion, which, according to some estimates, has caused the deaths of two billion innocent children, who will? If the Academy that was set up to protect them moves on to other problems, who will speak out in their defence?”
“Many faithful Catholics feel compelled to do something, but Our Lady already gave us the blueprint for victory,” Hichborn said. “We must stop offending God, do penance, pray very much for the Holy Father, pray the Rosary every day, and make the first five Saturdays of reparation.”
"The Church must not be pro-life only in the humanist sense that seeks only the temporal well-being of mankind, but must also be ‘pro-eternal life,’” Madise said. “Much prayer is needed for the Academy, that it may recover its true purpose in the service of Christ’s salvific mission for each human life.”