Papal Purge of Pro-Lifers
In a week when Italian history professor Roberto de Mattei has predicted that Pope Francis is to “revisit” Pope Paul’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Holy Father has purged the Pontifical Academy of Life of dozens of members renowned for their fidelity to Catholic teaching. These include Australian professor John Finnis who had criticised the Pope’s encyclical Amoris Laetitia, German philosopher Robert Spaemann—a longtime friend of Pope Benedict XVI—Englishman Dr Luke Gormally who had asked the Pope to remove a problematical section on contraception from the preparatory document for the Synod on the Family, and three eastern Europeans who were influenced greatly by John Paul II.[Back in the 1990s Drs Finnis and Gormally spoke at a meeting in Maynooth and criticised in vitro fertilisation. My wife Stramentaria covered this rather dodgy conference for the old Ballintrillick Review, and editor Doris Manly headlined her article “Take-Away Babies with Maynooth Sauce”.]
The Pope’s 17 new appointments to the Academy include Nigel Biggar, an Anglican professor of moral and pastoral theology who has expressed support for legalised abortion up to 18 weeks, and qualified support for euthanasia; and Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, an Italian moral theologian and professor who has openly criticized Catholic teaching on life issues, including Humanae Vitae
Last November the Holy Father released new statutes for the Pontifical Academy for Life, in which members are no longer required to sign a declaration that they uphold the Church’s pro-life teachings. He also expanded the Academy’s mandate to include a focus on the environment.
According to Professor de Mattei a commission has been nominated by Pope Francis to “reinterpret” Humanae Vitae in the light of his own encyclical Amoris Laetitia . Next year will see the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial contraception. The Commission has been ordered to procure from the Vatican archives the documentation on the preparatory work on the encyclical, lasting three years. In 1966 the “experts” delivered their conclusions to Pope Paul VI, and suggested opening the doors to birth control. After two years of wavering, the Pope followed the perennial teaching of the Church and rejected the idea in Humanae Vitae. As the philosopher Romano Amerio said, it was the most important act of his pontificate.
The Commission is to be co-ordinated by Mgr Gilfredo Marengo, who has made it clear in his writings that he supports the view of Pope Francis that one should “abandon models of of life derived from too abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals”. Professor de Mattei believes this indicates that praxis rather than doctrine will be followed in this “reinterpretation” of Humanae Vitae. And he wonders whether any Catholic theologian will have the courage to declare “heresy” when faced with this reinterpretation.