Pontifical Academy of Nonstop Fighting
After a brief pause, the controversy inside the academy for life is back in full swing. Five members are challenging their president’s legitimacy. The intrigue of a change in a statement from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The wisest words are coming from the “court of the gentiles”
by Sandro Magister
ROME, February 20, 2010 – There’s no rest for the president of the pontifical academy for life, Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella, whose troubles have been thoroughly covered by http://www.chiesa in previous articles.
The plenary assembly of the academy that was held at the Vatican behind closed doors from February 11 to 13 seemed to have ended peacefully for him, in part because his main opponent, Belgian academy member Michel Schooyans, had been kept in Louvain by a seasonal illness.
But some statements made by Fisichella in the speech with which he opened the assembly, and then to the Catholic News Service agency of the United States bishops’ conference, have prompted his opponents to open fire on him again.
On February 16, Schooyans and four other academy members signed and released a statement in which they again called for Fisichella to be removed as president of the academy.
Their statement is reproduced in its entirety further below. And it is the latest chapter of a dispute that has been going on for almost a year, since March 15, 2009, when “L’Osservatore Romano” published an article by Fisichella criticizing the Brazilian archbishop of Recife for excommunicating the authors of a double abortion for a child mother.
There were many vigorous protests against the article and its author – who had written it at the request and with the approval of cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone – from the bishops of Brazil and of other countries, and from dozens of members of the pontifical academy for life. They went all the way to the pope. On July 10, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith published a “Clarification” on the Church’s teaching on abortion, against the misunderstandings that had been sparked by the article.
But Fisichella never admitted that he had written anything wrong. In the 40-minute speech with which he opened the plenary assembly of the academy last February 11, he reiterated that the “Clarification” of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith had agreed with him in everything.
The text of Fisichella’s speech, delivered in Italian with simultaneous translations, was not distributed to those present, and the following day “L’Osservatore Romano” published only part of it, without any references to the Recife case.
On February 12, in an interview with Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service, Fisichella took on his critics: “If a member of the academy, if some people, for reasons of political exploitation, wanted to misconstrue my words, it is not my responsibility. Rather it’s the responsibility of those who wanted to create a situation of conflict.”
On the eve of the plenary assembly of the academy, Schooyans had published a broadside against the deceptive use of the concept of “compassion,” ultimately justifying actions contrary to Christian morality.
In Schooyans’ view, with that article in “L’Osservatore Romano” Fisichella had fallen right into the “trap” of false compassion, concerning the Brazilian girl who had been impregnated by her stepfather and made to have an abortion.
Benedict XVI as well, in his speech on February 13 to the pontifical academy for life at the end of the assembly, warned against “easy pietism in the face of limited situations.” But Fisichella has always rejected any criticism in this regard.
All of the main texts of the controversy can be read on http://www.chiesa. But the dispute has also drawn comments from outside of the Church.
One of these voices, among many, is that of Ruggero Guarini, a non-Catholic Italian intellectual who wrote this brief letter to the newspaper “il Foglio,” which published it last February 10, presenting it as “a magnificent example of secular apologetics”on behalf of the unborn:
“For what obscure reason, although I am not a militant abortion opponent, in reflecting on the case of the twins who were conceived in the womb of that girl in Recife raped by her stepfather but who were then eliminated by the doctors, am I surprised to find myself imagining that I would have liked those little ones to have been born?
“The real reason is the special circumstances of that atrocious yet touching episode, meaning the generation of those two little beings from an act that was horrible but not for this reason deprived of the power to produce that miracle which is the transmission of life, their happy development in the womb of a girl unaware of the prodigious nature of the process underway in her little body, and finally the particularly sinister effect produced by the obtuse certainty with which persons entirely extraneous to that chain of superhuman events appropriated the right to prevent their conclusion…
“In short, what glaring proof this episode is of the irreducibly mysterious essence of life, of its ineffable value as a gift, of its not being ours, and of the deadly stupidity of the idea of being able to dispose of it!”
It would have been wonderful if the controversy had been resolved along the lines of such simple and profound words. Pronounced not within the temple, but in the “court of the gentiles!”.
Returning to the dispute within the pontifical academy for life, Fisichella’s five opponents accuse him, among other things, of getting a last-minute modification in his favor in the “Clarification” issued on July 10, 2009 by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
In the secretariat of state, the stance of the five academy members was met with irritation. At the first news of the release of the text, on February 19, the director of the Holy See press office, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, said that “this document was received neither by the Holy Father, nor by the cardinal secretary of state, who would seem to be the natural recipients,” nor was it presented at the plenary assembly of the pontifical academy for life, “which would have been the natural place to address the matter.” So “it is astonishing and appears incorrect that such a document should be given public circulation.”
Here is the complete text, by way of documentation:
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 Pontifical Academy for Life 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 (emphasis added) by His Excellency Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the sad affair of the ‘Brazilian girl’.”
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.
Luke Gormally, Ordinary Member of the Academy, former Director (1981-2000), The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, London, UK.
Christine de Marcellus 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.
Maria Smereczynska, Corresponding Member of the Academy, Poland.
Thomas Ward, Corresponding Member of the Academy, President, The National Association of Catholic Families, UK.
February 16, 2010
The four articles from http://www.chiesa dedicated to the case of the Brazilian girl, with Fisichella’s article, the reply from the archdiocese of Recife, the “Clarification” from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, and Michel Schooyans’ indictment of false “compassion”:
> Vatican Tempests. The Academy for Life Puts Its Neck on the Line (8.2.2010)
The speech given by Benedict XVI to the pontifical academy for life on February 13, 2010, at the conclusion of the plenary assembly on the theme “Bioethics and natural law”:
The article from Catholic News Service, the agency of the United States bishops, on the plenary assembly of the pontifical academy for life from February 11-13, 2010:
As for the expression “court of the gentiles,” this is taken from Benedict XVI’s pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia on December 21, 2009:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.
The latest three articles from http://www.chiesa:
> Lent 2010. Pope Benedict’s Ash Wednesday
His torment is the disappearance of faith. His program is to lead men to God. His preferred instrument is teaching. But the Vatican curia doesn’t help him much. And sometimes it harms him
> Ambrosian Conflicts. Biffi Bashes, Milan Lashes Back
The object of the tussle is the new lectionary, against which Cardinal Giacomo Biffi has appealed to Rome. Professor Cesare Alzati, the main author of the controversial liturgical book, responds to his criticisms
> Italy, United States, Brazil. From the Vatican to the Conquest of the World
The ambitious captain is the cardinal secretary of state, with the help of “L’Osservatore Romano.” The objective is to subject the national Churches to itself, on the terrain of politics. But the bishops are resisting and reacting. The lesson of the Italian case