Head of Pontifical Academy for Life Should be Removed Say Five Pontifical Academy for Life Members
By Hilary White, Rome correspondent
ROME, February 17, 2010
Five prominent members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life are calling on the pope to remove Archbishop Rino Fisichella as the Academy’s president following their plenary meeting in Rome last week.
According to these key PAV members, Fisichella has manipulated both the media and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in order to deflect blame for damage to the Church caused by an article he wrote last year in which he appeared to condone the abortion of twins in Brazil.
Fisichella told Catholic News Service on February 12 that a state of “harmony” existed in the PAV. He said that the mood at last week’s meeting was “serene and calm.” He also accused his critics of “misconstruing” his article “for reasons of political exploitation,” in order to create “a situation of conflict.”
But a statement by five members of the Academy, sent today to LSN, accuses Fisichella of attempting to create a false front of unity while serious questions about his leadership remain unaddressed.
The statement says that members held back from a direct confrontation last week, believing that an open challenge at the time would have merely caused the Vatican’s Curia to “close ranks” around one of their own “because of the clericalist culture of that body” and despite the “lack of support” for Fisichella himself.
“There is credible information that Fisichella is widely perceived in the Curia to be an inappropriate President of PAV and there is a reasonable hope that the Holy Father will recognise the need to provide him with an occupation better suited to his abilities,” the statement said.
The statement’s signatories include Monsignor Michel Schooyans, Professor Emeritus of the University of Louvain, Belgium; Professor Luke Gormally, the former director of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics; Christine de Marcellus de Vollmer, head of the Alliance for the Family in Venezuela; Dr. Maria Smereczynska a corresponding member from Poland and Dr. Thomas Ward, president of the National Association of Catholic Families.
It says that Fisichella’s claim that the Academy “is moving forward and working to speak as a united body” is belied by the reality and that it gives a distorted and false impression to the Church at large of the situation in the Academy.
They call it “absurd” that the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, is “being led by an ecclesiastic who does not understand what absolute respect for innocent human lives entails.” The situation is one that can “be rectified only by those who are responsible for his appointment as President.”
Pro-life leaders, as well as the Catholic laity at large, were shocked in March last year when Archbishop Fisichella, in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, appeared to defend the doctors who decided to “help stop the pregnancy” of a nine year-old rape victim. The decision, he said, had been a “difficult” one “for doctors and for the moral law.” He accused the local bishop in Brazil of being “hasty” in announcing the excommunication of the mother and doctors who procured the abortion.
Fisichella has steadfastly refused to recant, clarify or correct his statements throughout the scandal that followed, despite numerous letters from pro-life leaders and members of the PAV. News media around the world ran with the story, claiming that the Catholic Church was softening its stand on abortion. Months later, a clarification was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that strongly reiterated Catholic teaching utterly condemning abortion in any circumstance.
But the PAV members claim that even this statement by the CDF was printed only after Fisichella insisted on new wording being inserted into the opening paragraph. The published statement said that the Vatican had received letters “explaining the confusion that has been created in various countries” following the “manipulation and exploitation” of Fisichella’s article.
At the meeting last week, the group said, it became clear that Fisichella believes the wording exonerates him of blame for the scandal, and even vindicates the content of his article.
“In this way he has been permitted to disclaim, with the apparent authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all responsibility for the damaging impact of his article on the defence of innocent pre-born human lives,” they said.
This last claim, they said, is “grave” since it implies that “there are difficult situations in which doctors enjoy scope for the autonomous exercise of conscience in deciding whether to carry out a direct abortion.”
Many Academicians are reportedly “disturbed” by the attitude of aggrieved victimhood Fisichella has displayed. This attitude, they said, is exemplified in his attempts to dismiss criticism, most prominently by the eminent Belgian philosopher Michel Schooyans. One PAV member told LSN that some have concluded that he will continue to refuse to give a thoughtful response to the substance of the criticism and to attribute “base motives” to the critic. Under such leadership, said this member, it is impossible to foster genuine unity.
The group said that the reluctance of some members to challenge Fisichella at the meeting, “has created the unfortunate impression that Academicians are behind his presidency, resignedly or otherwise. This is an impression he is evidently interested in propagating.”
HERE IS THE TEXT OF THE STATEMENT MADE BY THE FIVE MEMBERS OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE
STATEMENT ON THE PRESIDENCY OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE FOLLOWING THE ASSEMBLY OF THE ACADEMY 11-13 FEBRUARY 2010, VATICAN CITY.
The challenge to Archbishop Rino Fisichella’s position as President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which a number of commentators anticipated, did not occur at last week’s Assembly of the Academy. Why? Essentially because of a political decision made by a number of those who had been signatories of a letter of 2 April 2009 to Archbishop Fisichella and of a subsequent letter to Cardinal Levada of 1 May 2009, seeking correction of the seriously misleading impression of the Church’s teaching about direct abortion created by Archbishop Fisichella’s article in L’Osservatore Romano of the 15th of March 2009. The reasons for that political decision were twofold: (a) an open challenge to Fisichella in the Assembly would have divided the Academy, not necessarily because Academicians agreed with his behaviour but because many would have thought it inappropriate to treat a Papal appointee who is also an Archbishop in that way. Moreover, an open challenge by lay Academicians would have run the risk of leading the Curia to close ranks around Fisichella because of the clericalist culture of that body and despite the lack of support for him in many quarters. (b) There is credible information that Fisichella is widely perceived in the Curia to be an inappropriate President of PAV and there is a reasonable hope that the Holy Father will recognise the need to provide him with an occupation better suited to his abilities.
The absence of an open challenge to Fisichella has created the unfortunate impression that Academicians are behind his Presidency, resignedly or otherwise. This is an impression he is evidently interested in propagating. Nothing could be further from the truth, and one of the main reasons it is false is because of the seriously ill-judged address he gave at the opening of the Assembly. He showed not the slightest consciousness of the gravely damaging effects of his L’Osservatore Romano article of 15 March 2009 or of his own responsibility for those effects. The respectful efforts of Academicians to seek a correction of it from him (which he rejected at the time) he described as personal attacks upon him motivated by “spite”; none of the signatories had the slightest reason to entertain such sentiments towards him. He claimed that the ‘Clarification’ eventually published on the 11th of July 2009 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith vindicated him. In other words, he retracted nothing of what he said in his article. Fisichella is plausibly able to make this claim of being vindicated because of the unfortunate first paragraph of the ‘Clarification’ which reads as follows:
“Recently a number of letters have been sent to the Holy See, some of them from prominent figures in political and ecclesial life, explaining the confusion that has been created in various countries, especially in Latin America, following the manipulation and exploitation of an article by His Excellency Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the sad affair of the ‘Brazilian girl’.” [Emphasis added]
What is not generally known is that this is not the original wording of the opening paragraph which it was intended to publish in L’Osservatore Romano. Fisichella obtained sight of the text prior to publication and demanded that the original
paragraph be changed to read as in the published version. In this way he has been permitted to disclaim, with the apparent authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all responsibility for the damaging impact of his article on the defence of innocent pre-born human lives. Responsibility for this damage belongs entirely to the way others have ‘manipulated and exploited’ his article! But not content with disclaiming responsibility for the damage his article has done, Fisichella in his address to the Academy on the 11th of February claimed that the vindication extended to the content of his article. This claim is indeed grave because the clear implication of the wording of that article is that there are difficult situations in which doctors enjoy scope for the autonomous exercise of conscience in deciding whether to carry out a direct abortion. It would appear, then, that the CDF ‘Clarification’ has failed to clarify the mind of Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and, if that is the case, it raises a troubling question about just how generally effective the ‘Clarification’ has been in dispelling the false understanding of the Church’s teaching about direct abortion conveyed by the 15 March 2009 article.
Far from creating unity and genuine harmony in the Academy, Archbishop Fisichella’s address on the 11th of February had the effect of confirming in the minds of many Academicians the impression that we are being led by an ecclesiastic who does not understand what absolute respect for innocent human lives entails. This is an absurd state of affairs in a Pontifical Academy for Life but one which can be rectified only by those who are responsible for his appointment as President.
Professor Luke Gormally, Ordinary Member of the Academy; former Director (1981- 2000), The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, London, UK.
Mrs Christine de Marcellus de Vollmer, Ordinary Member of the Academy; Chairwoman, Alliance for the Family. Venezuela.
Monsignor Michel Schooyans, Ordinary Member of the Academy; Professor Emeritus of the University of Louvain, Belgium.
Dr Maria Smereczynska, Corresponding Member of the Academy; Poland. Dr Thomas Ward, Corresponding Member of the Academy; President, The National
Association of Catholic Families; Retired General Practitioner, UK.
16 February 2010