Fair is foul and foul is fair at the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV). Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the PAV, recently redefined the term “life” for the Catholic Church, stating that the PAV will now refocus its pro-life mission to include issues of migration, arms control, poverty and the environment. He suggested that to be authentically pro-life is to be pro-life in every way and everywhere. That is true, if we correctly understand the term pro-life. Correctly understood, it means defending innocent human life from targeted destruction from the moment of conception until natural death at all stages of development in every time, place and culture.
We should be extremely wary of accepting any new definition of “life.” The traditional definition only includes the issues of abortion, euthanasia, and bioethical concerns pertaining to embryonic stem cell research, cloning, IVF, etc. It excludes the death penalty, which involves those who are guilty of grotesque crimes such as murder and rape. The convicted may be put to death in rare cases as a matter of justice only after due process and especially if they remain a danger to society, which is in line with Catholic teaching despite Pope Francis’s recent statement that capital punishment always violates the Gospel. It excludes war, which may be waged after discernment for just cause, and killing in self-defense. But it also excludes the new areas of focus of the PAV. I am not suggesting that these issues are not constituent of the mission of the Church, or that they do not impinge on issues relating to human life, but they are not issues related to the Church’s traditional pro-life mission. There are other councils, institutes, academies, etc., wherein such issues should rightly be the focus, but to include them in the PAV is suspect.
This move to redefine “life” is highly disturbing for many in the Church suspicious of Pope Francis, his advisors and appointees, who believe that John Paul II’s original motive for the PAV outlined in his motu proprio Vitae Mysterium to spread the traditional “Gospel of Life” with “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” is being undermined by those hell-bent on reforming Catholicism from within. It doesn’t help that Paglia is also Grand Chancellor of the recently and controversially renamed John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences (which is now to be guided by Amoris Laetitia) who has expressed support for admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion, approved a controversial sex-education program in Spain entitled “The Meeting Point: Project for Affective and Sexual Formation,” commissioned and appeared in a mural on the façade of the cathedral church of the Diocese of Terni-Narni-Ameli that many describe as homoerotic, and, according to some critics, has equivocated on defending the Church’s position on same-sex relationships.
Inarguably, migration, arms control, poverty and the environment are important to the life and mission of the Church, but they are not, nor have they ever been, properly part of the Church’s pro-life mission for good reason. To include them as such conflates the philosophical foundation of each issue and inevitably, and perhaps intentionally, confuses the faithful and destroys the logically, unifying element of the PAV. The reasons why we must defend innocent life from the moment of conception is different than why and how we must care for God’s creation and the poor, or welcome the stranger into our home (or lands). The effort to include these issues in the pro-life mission of the Church is a foul language program that the political Left has instituted for years in American politics that aims to highlight the supposed hypocrisy of political conservatives and to coerce or shame conservatives and the relatively uninformed, centrists into supporting their own polices and philosophical positions. In this effort, the Left has either destroyed language or irrationally and artificially redefined terms. This is an assault on organic language development that occurs naturally through human living and interaction. Language is a powerful tool that not only changes for a variety of reasons as we progress through history, but it affects the way we think and what we believe. For this reason, the language assassins of the Left are hard at work. Some examples are in order.
Leftist Assault on Language
Most famous is the redefinition of marriage, a term that found its meaning through living history as a union between a man and a woman (or women). There is the foul and insane language of gender ideology, which accepts that a biological male can be called a “she” whose possessive pronoun can be “their” and whose honorific can be “Mx.” I only wonder how the Left’s language assassins are trying to solve the “problems” in Romance and other languages with their explicit, gendered words. Additionally, the Left is in the midst of redefining gender itself, which is traditionally understood as one’s biological sex, which is either male or female. The Left now argues that gender (or non-existent gender) is whatever you want it to be, each and every day. For the Left, gender is all in the mind despite their argument that biological sex is a construct and gender is “real.” At least Pope Francis is on the right side on this issue, calling it an ideology of the devil and characterizing its attempted implementation worldwide as evil, ideological colonization.
How about a few more changes in language from the Left? Advocates of gun control morphed into opponents of gun violence, because who would be in favor of the latter? Gay marriage became marriage equality, because equality is virtuous. Euthanasia or assisted suicide is now “death with dignity,” because who would deny that everyone deserves to die with dignity? Being opposed to illegal immigration is now just simply anti-immigrant, because apparently calling your opponent a bigot has political capital. And illegal aliens are now euphemistically called “undocumented workers” to minimize their criminal status. Forcing a person or organization to subsidize contraception, perform a tubal ligation, perform an abortion or provide an abortion referral are all subsumed under “women’s rights” or “reproductive rights” because it is apparently politically advantageous to claim that your opponent is waging a war on women. A “hate group” is any group or person who believes that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, but only after Joe Biden persuaded Barack Obama to publicly “evolve” on his position. And finally, global warming morphed into climate change so that nearly any change in weather patterns, phenomena or climate can be used as evidence for man-made climate change and because there was no evidence that the earth was actually warming due to rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Much of this foul language play is simply a political hit job meant to create opportune political ads and fundraising opportunities, to unfairly attack opponents, and to coerce centrists into voting Left.
Then there is Fr. James Martin’s attack on the language of the Catechism. Fr. Martin admits that he is not a theologian, which might explain why he fails to (try to) understand or explain the philosophical language used in the description of the sinful nature of homosexual sexual activity. Instead, he believes, among many suggested changes, that the language should be changed from “disordered” to “differently ordered” because the former is hurtful. It is a trick of the Left. Change the language, and thus change the meaning, and soon enough, change hearts and minds until many of your opponents accept your position. Why not instead understand the true meaning of the language? One need not be a theologian to do so.
And be on the lookout for the redefinition of the now infamous term “irregular situations” found in Amoris Laetitia. Its meaning could morph to include those in a same-sex relationship who may be admitted to receive communion because their conscience would allow them to do so. They will defend their decision to remain in a state of sin by claiming they are avoiding greater sin such as abandoning their partner and any children. (After all, if a straight couple in an adulterous second marriage can receive communion, why not a gay couple in a civil marriage?) This is the major problem with artificial language created and controlled by those in power. They can morph it later on.
Many language assassins on the Left have now come for the term “pro-life.” Their favorite alternate term which has been around for a while is “anti-choice,” because who can be opposed to self-determination? The Left also uses the term “science deniers” or “anti-science” to refer to global warming skeptics or advocates of Intelligent Design. However, such terms are less commonly used against pro-lifers who insist, based on biological facts, that human life (a new organism) begins at conception. Instead, the Left rejects science and argues that life really begins with sentience, or with the ability to breathe on one’s own outside of the womb, or only when the mother decides that her unborn child is a life.
The new term that has gained much favor among the Left as of late is “pro-birth,” a term that has already entered in on the Catholic Left. The Left accuses those who are pro-life of only being pro-birth, arguing that we do not care about what happens to a baby after she is born and that we are in violation of the Catholic teaching on the preferential option for the poor. This is an attack by the Left on pro-lifers for supposedly being hypocritical about their care for human life. It is a straw man argument. Nevertheless, there are two responses to this criticism. First of all, pro-life organizations focus on their strengths and leave other charitable and public policy organizations to address issues like poverty, health care, education, adoption, and economics. Secondly, pro-lifers are not in violation of their pro-life principles simply because they disagree about how babies are best taken care of after birth or because they oppose the Left’s various domestic and economic policies, regulations, and laws intended to help the poor. They may in good conscience promote their own policy solutions that they believe will best serve the young and the poor.
Just Concerns About the PAV
And now this foul language of the Left has crept into the sacred PAV beloved by the pro-life community. Orthodox Catholics are rightly upset, perhaps because of the pattern that has formed over the past few years in the Vatican. The PAV wants to include issues that the Catholic Left has made a central part of their campaign in the United States. This campaign was energized by Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” argument and has gained new spokesman with the appointment of Cardinal Cupich. At best, it appears to be a covert attempt to convince traditional Catholics to support an expanded menu of “pro-life” policies and positions, and at worst it aims to shame them into doing so. Either way, it undoubtedly shifts focus away from traditional pro-life issues as have past attempts, which may actually be the ultimate goal. Many of us fear or are already convinced what this redefinition of “life” will ultimately mean for the PAV. The PAV will soon affirm that to be pro-life also means that we must all welcome unfettered, mass migration and refugees, work to eliminate an arms race and erode rights to self-defense, support massive government spending and entitlement programs, and care for God’s creation by accepting radical policies in response to “climate change.” All the while this redefinition of life will shift our focus away from abortion and other traditional life issues while holdouts are accused of violating pro-life principles because they choose different prudential remedies to solve social, economic, and environmental problems.
Traditional pro-life Catholics are right to be suspicious of the intrusion of the Left’s foul language tactics into the PAV because it appears to be an effort to coerce or shame them into accepting the Left’s dogma by deemphasizing the focus on abortion. Recently, papal confidant Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa wrote an ironic, ill-informed (even silly), political attack article entitled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism” in which they accuse Evangelicals and the Catholic Right in the U.S. of promoting a politically motivated ecumenism of hate which centers on issues of morality, especially abortion. This is another trick of the Left—project onto your opponents the very unethical political motives and methods they you yourself are guilty of using against them. Belittle your opponents and call them haters as you yourself express hate, and attempt to coerce or shame honest opponents into moving away from issues of morality, especially abortion—and to support a Leftist political agenda.
Early in his pontificate, in an interview with Fr. Spadaro, even Pope Francis himself said that the Church must not focus so much on abortion. Well, so let it be written, so let it be done.
This is a pattern, and it is foul. Something is rotten in the PAV.
Joel R. Gallagher is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.