By Judie Brown
Pro-lifers must understand the inherent importance of the Pontifical Academy for Life and of its achievements in order to appreciate—with the appropriate level of shock—Pope Francis’ recent actions to deconstruct it.
Let me explain a bit of background. The Pontifical Academy for Life came into existence in 1994 because of the heroic dedication of Dr. Jerome Lejeune and his long-standing friendship with then-pope John Paul II. Just one year later, on March 25, 1995, Pope John Paul II issued the historic encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). In that encyclical he explained the reasons why building a culture of life was so important: “We are asked to love and honor the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.”
Regarding the establishment of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Holy Father wrote: “It [The Pontifical Academy for Life] will have the specific task to study and provide information and training about the principal problems of law and biomedicine pertaining to the promotion and protection of life, especially in the direct relationship they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church's Magisterium.”
The Academy became the scientific and philosophical backdrop that would provide the Church and her people with statements, publications, and volumes directed at developing an understanding of what was at stake in the struggle between good and evil. Many of its documents further examined the truth of our position on any number of topics from abortion to human fetal tissue experimentation to euthanasia and many subjects in between.
I served three five-year terms on the Pontifical Academy for Life. Attending the Academy meetings from 1997 through 2010 helped me establish a network of contacts across the world who dealt with the rising tide of secular humanism as exhibited in such practices as experimentation on the human embryo, manipulation of the genome, and so much more. As a grassroots member of the Academy, I learned ways to better communicate the true nature of the challenges we faced then, and still face today—not to mention the most effective ways of exposing the errors of the enemies of life. I admired the intellect and the ability to communicate of its members, including then-president Juan de Dios Vial Correa and his successor Bishop Elio Sgreccia. Both men led lively discussions and never retreated from a good debate.
Those 14 years contributed much to American Life League’s war chest of facts and honest science, and fostered the forging of what have become enduring friendships with many truly great people, including Philippe Schepens, MD, an expert on end-of-life topics who serves on our board.
In one of Schepens’ many writings is his telling of the tragic story of a child born with multiple handicaps. He states that her case
shows us that (again in Holland) things go forward in the wrong direction . . . it is the start of recognition of infanticide as good medical practice . . . this case is a start of a new jurisprudence about infanticide for "deformed babies," so that after abortion and euthanasia, people can be killed "for their own sake" without own request. Once this is achieved, all kinds of (more or less) ill and very ill people will be legally “allowed to be put down,” actually as pets.
It is precisely this kind of insight and factual analysis of the horrors perpetrated by science and medicine that helped me understand the grave nature of our struggle against the death peddlers, for we know that abortion and contraception are just the tip of the iceberg.
Sadly, after Bishop Elio Sgreccia retired from the presidency and Archbishop Rino Fisichella took over, things at the Academy slowly began to ebb.
I will discuss this further in part II of this three-part series.