By Judie Brown at The Wanderer
(Editor’s Note: Judie Brown is the president of the American Life League and a former member of the Pontifical Academy for Life)
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The Pontifical Academy for Life is undergoing an overhaul by Pope Francis and his political operatives within the Vatican’s hierarchy, and it is one of the most heartbreaking events I have seen in my lifetime. But given the politics of the Vatican, it is not surprising.
For those who are not aware of its history, the Academy was established by Pope John Paul II on February 11, 1994, at the urging of his close friend Dr. Jerome Lejeune to combat the culture of death, particularly on matters relating to abortion, human embryo research, and other threats to the human person. Lejeune was then appointed by the Holy Father to be the first president of the Academy. Sadly he died shortly after the appointment, on April 3, 1994.
The very best piece of historical fact about the Academy and the holy men who gave it such an inspiring start is contained in this tribute to Dr. Lejeune:
“On May 13, 1981 (the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima), when Dr. Lejeune and his wife were visiting Rome, Pope John Paul II invited them to a private audience and lunch afterward. Later that day, John Paul survived an assassination attempt. This news upset Dr. Lejeune so much that he himself was hospitalized on the same day, with painful gallstones….
“In 1994, the Holy Father created the Pontifical Academy for Life, appointing Dr. Lejeune as its first president. By then suffering from cancer, he tried to decline, but when the Pope insisted, he simply replied, ‘I will die in action.’ He immediately got to work drafting the bylaws of the new academy.”
After Lejeune’s death, the Academy moved forward, having begun because of the deep commitment of a remarkable Pope and his devoted friend.
In 1996 it was my privilege to be invited to serve in that Academy. My name was submitted to Pope John Paul II, who confirmed my appointment as a corresponding member. At the time I was asked to sign an oath of fidelity to the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church.
I was blessed to serve two five-year terms under Pope John Paul II and another term under Pope Benedict XVI. During those 15 years it was remarkable to meet with and get to know so many amazing pro-life heroes from around the world. We all worked together and discussed matters pertinent to teaching, protecting, and defending the Magisterium of the Church in matters relating to the defense of the dignity of the human person, with a special emphasis on abortion and other deadly acts against human beings.
In addition, the Academy was involved in the publication of many wonderful statements on the defense of life. For example, in 2005 it clarified Catholic teaching on vaccines containing fetal tissue. In 2008 Academy President Bishop Elio Sgreccia condemned the morning-after pill, clarifying again that the chemical cannot be used by Catholics.
But Bishop Sgreccia’s successor, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, was another matter. In 2009 Fisichella created a firestorm when he suggested that it was acceptable for a nine-year-old Brazilian girl pregnant with twins to have an abortion.
Was that episode the beginning of the end?
Several subsequent occurrences, including statements by the current Academy president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, in support of the Vatican’s version of sex education, do not bode well for the Academy and its future.
So while I was dismayed when I read a report late last year that members of the Academy were no longer required to sign a declaration of fidelity, I was not surprised.
And then just last week it was reported that Pope Francis had dismissed every single member of the Academy. Apparently all terms ended on December 31 of last year.
The more that is revealed about this sad turn of events, the more troublesome it becomes. This is not the place to dig up any suspected dirt that is currently being swept around among the Vatican movers and shakers. That is the task of others. But because this saddens many of us, we must do something.
What can we do? We can pray fervently for the Holy Father and all those involved. We can defend the truth with joy, hope, and love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And we can educate ourselves and our children about these truths. With God’s help, we can create a culture of life in our homes, communities, and within the Church.