Vatican Defends Naming Abortion Supporter to Pro-Life Academy

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THE VATICAN – A top Vatican official explained a decision last week to name an abortion supporter to the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

Last week, LifeNews and others questioned Pope Francis’s decision to name Nigel Biggar to the pro-life academy. Biggar, a professor of theology at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, made statements in the past supporting abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy, The National Catholic Register reports.

The Pontifical Academy for Life promotes protections for human life at all stages and conducts research on moral and bioethical issues. It is influential world-wide in promoting Catholic teachings on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and other issues involving life and family.

Responding to concerns Saturday, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia said the Vatican remains committed to protecting unborn babies from abortion, the Associated Press reports. He said Biggar will not participate in debates about abortion in his role at the academy.

Biggar’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia appear to be the reasons for his appointment. He told the AP that he and the Catholic Church have reached the same conclusions about these life issues.

“Abortion is a very important and, I think, difficult moral issue. But, although I have provisional views about it, it is not one that I have published anything substantial on,” he said. “I have on the other hand written a lot about voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide, spoken about it in the UK, Ireland, France, and Canada, and consistently opposed their legalization. On those two issues, my conclusions align with those of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Biggar also said the Vatican asked him to clarify his position on abortion after the controversy arose last week.

Paglia said the Archbishop of Canterbury personally recommended Biggar for the pro-life academy.

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In 2011, Biggar said he thinks abortions should be legal up to 18 weeks after an unborn baby’s conception, The Catholic Herald reports.

“I would be inclined to draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness,” Biggar said in 2011.

He continued: “It’s not clear that a human foetus is the same kind of thing as an adult or a mature human being, and therefore deserves quite the same treatment. It then becomes a question of where we draw the line, and there is no absolutely cogent reason for drawing it in one place over another.”

Biggar has spoken out against legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia across the world, but the National Catholic Register questioned his opinions on these issues, too.

According to a NCR report last week:

[Former founding academy member Christine] Vollmer called [Biggar’s] appointment “scandalous” while Professor Luke Gormally, a British former academy member, told the Register the appointment was “shocking.” He also claimed that Biggar has no moral objection in principle to euthanizing some people, based on what he wrote in his 2004 book “Aiming to Kill: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia,” although he opposes the legalization of euthanasia largely on pragmatic grounds.

In a September 2006 review of the book for the Dominican periodical New Blackfriars, author David Jones wrote: “Biggar finds the distinction of ‘biological’ human life and ‘biographical’ human life both logically defensible and morally relevant. If someone’s brain is irreparably damaged so that he or she cannot think, then according to Biggar we should conclude that he or she is no longer a human ‘person’ and no longer part of the human community. Biggar even describes such individuals as ‘irretrievably inaccessible to human care’ so that it means nothing to protect them from being killed nor therefore (and this is my deduction) to visit, clothe or feed them.”

Some pro-life advocates also expressed concern about another academy appointee, Kathleen Foley, MD, who headed the Open Society Institute’s Project on Death in America.

American Life League president Judie Brown issued a statement to in response to reports of anti-life appointments by the Vatican.

Brown stated: “We had hoped the Pontifical Academy for Life would continue voicing the truth as taught by so many saints and doctors of the Church. Yet today it seems to have lost its way. Pope Francis has created a revised version of the sainted Pope John Paul II’s vision that is not only scary, but also in many ways ugly to behold.”

Brown called for Catholics to pray as well as to write to Pope Francis to “lovingly express your concern about the Pontifical Academy for Life and remind him that he is in your prayers.”

These appointees more than likely will resurrect questions about the pope’s commitment to protecting life, especially unborn babies. When Pope Francis first was elected, many mainstream media outlets speculated that he may soften the church’s stance on abortion.

Pope Francis consistently has opposed abortion and urged society to protect human lives, both born an unborn.

The pontiff has clearly stated that the Catholic Church will not compromise its pro-life position. In 2013, the Vatican released the text of Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), an Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis that specifically addresses pro-life and pro-family issues. The text of the message makes it clear that the Catholic Church cannot and will not compromise on its pro-life teachings on abortion.

Other actions also have pointed to the pope’s strong position on the life issues. A few weeks after he was elected, he stunned the world when he made a personal phone call to a woman who was pregnant out of wedlock and encouraged her to reject abortion and see her child as “a gift from God.”

Before speaking to the United States Congress in 2015, Pope Francis also said his primary reason for visiting the U.S. was to speak up for human life.

“I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit,” he told U.S. Catholic bishops.