After passing through the sieve one after the other, the new members of the Pontifical Academy for Life appointed on June 13 by Pope Francis have new surprises in store every day.
But also at the contiguous Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, this too consigned by the pope to the supervision of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, a shift in the same direction is on the way.
At the Pontifical Academy for Life, the first big uproar was over the appointment of the Anglican moral theologian Nigel Biggar, a supporter of abortion until “18 weeks after conception.”
Asked to comment by Vatican Insider, Archbishop Paglia tried to justify the appointment by asserting that Biggar – apart from words he exchanged in 2011 with the staunchly pro-abortion philosopher Peter Singer – “has never written anything on the issue of abortion” and that on the end of life “he has a position absolutely in keeping with the Catholic one.”
But it didn’t take much to discover that neither statement corresponds to the truth, and that Biggar has expressed his liberal positions on abortion in a 2015 article for the “Journal of Medical Ethics,” and on euthanasia in his 2004 book “Aiming To Kill. The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia.”
Then it was noted that other new members of the academy are rather far from the Church’s positions:
– Katarina Le Blanc of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, who uses stem cells taken from human embryos fertilized in vitro;
– Japanese Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, who in spite of his fame for producing pluripotent stem cells artificially has by no means rules out continued research on the use of embryonic stem cells, and explains why in an article in the scientific journal “Cell & Stem Cell.”
– the Israeli Jew Avraham Steinberg, who admits in some cases abortion and the destruction of embryos for scientific use;
– Maurizio Chiodi, a leading Italian moral theologian, who in his book “Ethics of life” makes allowances for artificial procreation, if it is supported by an “intention of fertility.”
Meanwhile, as has already happened for the Academy, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family is also about to get new statutes, which will soon go into effect with a chirograph of Pope Francis.
The name of the institute will be changed, and it will no longer be styled after the pope who founded it, but will be called “Institute of Studies on the Family” or something similar, and will be incorporated within the Pontifical Lateran University under the authority of its current, Bishop Enrico dal Covolo.
The proponents of the new course are justifying this loss of autonomy for the institute with the intention of reinforcing the value of the graduate degrees in moral theology, doctorates, and master’s degrees that it confers, of expanding its curriculum by integrating it with that of the university and extending its international scope.
But apart from the fact that the John Paul II Institute already has numerous branches in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Australia, one initial practical effect of this change will be that its faculty can be reshaped at will, bringing in new professors and new scholars from the Lateran University and from other universities pontifical and not.
And this is enough to get around the wall erected by its current professors, almost all of them united in holding firm to the course of the institute’s founder, pope Karol Wojtyla, and of its first three presidents: Carlo Caffarra, Angelo Scola, and Livio Melina. This latter was removed last summer and replaced with the Milanese theologian PierAngelo Sequeri, contextually with the appointment of Archbishop Paglia as Grand Chancellor of the institute. About Scola, who has become cardinal and archbishop of Milan, it is known that he was the big loser to Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the conclave of 2013. While Caffarra, who also became a cardinal and is now archbishop emeritus of Bologna, is known for his frankness of speech toward Pope Francis: he is one of the four cardinals who have publicly asked him to bring clarity on the “dubia” generated by his magisterium specifically on the subject of marriage and family, and have recently written to him asking to be received in audience. In both cases without the pope dignifying them with a reply.
One example of the “Wojtylian” course inherited from the previous management and along which the professors continue is the “Handbook” on the interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia” edited by professors José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, and Juan José Pérez-Soba, in complete continuity with the preceding magisterium of the Church.
But the first changes of allegiance are showing up, too. The most sensational is that of Gilfredo Marengo, since 2013 a professor of theological anthropology at the institute. He was one of Scola’s favorite disciples when he was president and even afterward, while now he is one the other side, with Archbishop Paglia. It is no coincidence that none other than Marengo has been made coordinator of the commission – one member of which is the current president of the institute, Sequeri – that is supposed to open the way to a reinterpretation of Paul VI’s encyclical on contraception, “Humanae Vitae,” in the light of “Amoris Laetitia.”
It remains to be seen what will happen with the satellites of the institute, which are also hardly inclined to submit to the new course. The most powerful is that of Washington, with a pugnacious faculty wholly on the “Wojtylian” course and well financed by the Knights of Columbus, whose supreme head, Carl Anderson, is also professor and vice-president there.
In any case, the students and professors still at the John Paul II Institute are forging ahead, without giving up.
In the next issue of the Institute’s magazine, “Anthropotes,” there will be an article by a doctoral student from Milan, Alberto Frigerio, presenting a thorough critique of the volume “Amoris laetitia: a turning point for moral theology” edited by Stephan Goertz and Caroline Witting, published in Italy by San Paolo, which expresses the most progressive positions of German theology.
And it was with none other than the most noted moral theologian of Germany, Eberhard Schockenhoff – author of a recent essay in “Stimmen der Zeit” that made a big stir – that penultimate institute president Livio Melina crossed swords during a conference in Nysa, Silesia for a hundred Polish moral theologians, in the presence of two auxiliary bishops from Poznan and Lublin.
Schockenhoff is an authority not only in Germany but also elsewhere. The episcopal conference of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden wanted a talk from none other than him during a day of study on “Amoris Laetitia” held in Hamburg two months ago.
But Melina contradicted the positions of the German theologian point by point, demonstrating the baselessness of the presumed “paradigm shift” that many associate with the magisterium of Pope Francis. And the bishops of Poland, in their guidelines for the application of “Amoris Laetitia,” completely agree with him.
Melina’s talk, given on June 12, will also be published in the next issue of “Anthropotes.” Here is a sneak peek at the complete text:
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)