New Divisions Within the Pontifical Academy for Life

July 26, 2022

Dr. Mónica López Barahona, member of the Board of Trustees of the Pontifical Academy for Life and president of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation in Spain, commented on the recent publication of a book by this Vatican institution, the content of which contradicts Magisterium of the Church, and expressed regrets that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith had not been consulted.

“It is not true that the Church or the Magisterium have changed their moral criteria with regard to certain questions of bioethics; nor even that the Vatican has begun a process of reviewing these issues,” she said in an interview.

The doctor is categorical: “In no way does this volume represent an official declaration of the Academy and even less a change in the Magisterium of the Church which, as we know, is contained only in the papal encyclicals, the instructions from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and explicit magisterial declarations.”

The controversy stems from the presentation of the book as “a contribution that elaborates a Christian vision of life, presenting it from the perspective of an anthropology appropriate to the cultural mediation of faith in the world today.” The document, titled “Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, and Practical Challenges,” is a 528-page summary of a theological seminar sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2021.

López Barahona explains that “some of the statements contained in the volume seem to be in contrast with the Magisterium of the Church.” Among them are positions taken in favor of “the possible legality of contraception in certain cases.”

Also it is in favor of “the legality of certain techniques of assistance to homologous procreation under certain conditions (without loss of embryos).” And thirdly, it supports “the non-existence of inherently evil actions.”

These positions violate the doctrine of the magisterial documents Humanae Vitae, Donum Vitae and Veritatis Splendor which, on the other hand, are affirmed in other parts of the controversial document, according to the doctor and member of the board of directors of the Pontifical Academy for Life .

López Barahona also denounces the fact that “not all the contributions of the people who participated in the seminar are included in the text,” while recalling that “there have been discordant and critical voices of what has been expounded on in the text.”

On the other hand, the doctor draws attention to the fact that this type of publication “requires a more careful elaboration and publication process with all the bodies concerned, such as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith which, in my opinion, should have revised the text before publication.”

The Board of Directors of the Academy did not have knowledge of the text before publication

It is not uncommon for members of the Academy to engage in dialogue with people who have other opinions on bioethics. But “such discussion should have been brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees” for evaluation and “not published until it has been reviewed and evaluated by the appropriate authority of the Church.”

The doctor points out that “the book is not an official statement of the Pontifical Academy for Life on these issues” nor does it represent “the moral standards of all its members,” although some among them did attend the seminar at the origin of the controversy.

The proof, she adds, is that some were disconcerted by the news of the publication of the book and the seminar, which they did not know existed. The confusion spread to many people who were surprised and consulted the Academy. The document “caused confusion and outrage in the media and on social media.”

Some media had indeed posted headlines stating that “the Vatican opens the debate on the use of contraceptives ‘in certain circumstances.’”

All these difficulties are not new: they stem from the remodeling of moral theology after the Second Vatican Council and the confusion that this engendered. In particular the reduction of the infallibility of the Church in the moral field “to a moral minimum” according to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

If the Church can infallibly define only a minimum of morality, this means that there are human actions that are not related to the eternal goal. Or that there are situations in which principles are not enough, and which everyone must assess according to their conscience.

This is precisely the common doctrine today, which regularly manifests itself in the difficulties encountered by the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life today, and the controversies it too often faces.