Saturday, May 12, 2012

Controversy at the Pontifical Academy of Life

From the Vatican Insider


A small minority [Huh?  Sounds like an oxymoron.  Large minority?  They won't be a minority anymore if they are large.]  of the Pontifical Academy for Life’s (PAV) members has, for years, contested any initiative aimed at encouraging dialogue with the world of science and research, making it difficult for the Holy See’s bioethical “think tank” to carry on its mission. This is what has emerged from a series of interviews between the Vatican Insider and a number of sources within the Academy who have asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorised to speak about internal issues.

A series of internal disputes that have continued over the past few months have culminated in Professor Josef Seifert’s request for the resignation of the Academy’s President, Mgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula and a protest organised by some of the Academy’s members which will reach “the highest levels”.

The activities organised by the Academy have recently ended up in the crosshairs of some of its members on more than one occasion: In February, a conference on infertility treatment was contested because it was said to have expressed stances that were not in line with Catholic doctrine; a month later, the Pontifical Academy cancelled the international scientific conference on adult stem cells. Officially, the decision was down to insufficient financial coverage of the event but it came after harsh contestations by some sectors of the pro-life movement. But problems had already arisen in the past, for example with the letter sent by the then president Mgr. Rino Fisichella on the abortion undergone by a young girl who was raped in Brazil. Then there was the controversy over the lawfulness of transplants and the definition of cerebral death.

Sources say there is a small group of pro-life activists that has never confronted the Academy’s leadership but has always preferred to speak to the press or address its criticisms of the Academy’s activities to high authorities.

“These individuals go behind people’s backs; the minute something happens, they speak to the high authorities,” a core member of the Academy said. “We have not received anything official from these people. We have only received some public communications. They did not write to us to ask for clarifications,” another person from the Academy, who is aware of the issue, explained.  [There is a reason why some people resort to this way.  With this kind of a grey-area environment inside the Academy, and if you are staunchly pro-life, I'd do this same route myself.  I seriously believe that these pro-life individuals used the normal course before:  they approached the officials of the Academy.  But, just like the "noted" line of Sen. Pangilinan during the canvassing of the 2004 presidential election ballots, which we all know was seriously marred in cheating controversy, you'd go the other way just to send the message out.]

According to sources problems have arisen as a result of the lack of a deeper understanding of the nature of the Pontifical Academy for Life: “Is it an independent Academy offering freedom of study and the possibility to invite individuals with whom we disagree or is it a sort of “super pro-life movement”? According to the source, the PAV’s Statutes guarantee its autonomy: “As an Academy it is possible we may make mistakes. Not if our only task is to affirm Catholic doctrine.”  [Do I smell academic freedom even if it goes against Catholic doctrine somewhere here?]

A top representative of the institution stressed that the Academy’s official positions “can be found in our publications,” not in the comments made by speakers invited to events organised by PAV.

The situation has become far more complex because the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tends to consider us an extension of it in the field of bioethics.”

An internal source of PAV emphasised that it is now up to the Vatican authorities, the Pope, the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to clear up this “ambiguity” regarding the Academy’s nature and function.

One of the sources stressed that “We have always defended life from conception to natural death and we continue to do so. We do the same work as these pro-lifers whose intentions are good but more dialogue is needed and they make statements that are unfounded. We are always open to dialogue with everyone; our task is a call for dialogue with science. Even Saint Paul spoke to pagans and non-believers at the Aeropagus in Athens.”  [Hmmm...some pro-lifers are a bit of a hot-head, are they?]

In terms of the positions taken by the protesters, PAV stressed that “an Academy is not a lobbying association” neither do those who express constant disagreement “have the right to be academics”: “It is the Holy Father who calls individuals to this task. It is not a right or a prize.”

Members of the Academy also emphasised that - in contrast to Seifert’s statement - the decision to cancel the scientific conference on stem cells was taken “completely independently” despite the disagreement of other organisers (The Jerome Lejeune Foundation in Paris and the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations) but it is difficult to say whether the event will be held at some other time in the future.

There has been “no reaction” to the request for the resignations of the Academy’s leaders; “the question remains in the hands of the superiors.”


I'll stay glued on this one and maybe some of my contacts in Rome can chime in on this.

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