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The Pontifical Academy Against Life: An Update

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 15, 2018

When Pope Francis ordered the demolition and reconstruction of the Pontifical Academy for Life, sacking its entire membership and ordering the revision of its statutes, he also approved the abandonment of the pro-life oath that was once a requirement for membership.

The result was drearily predictable: the Pontifical Academy for “Life” now includes members who condone abortion, with the usual sophistical appeal to “difficult” cases. In other words, a little bit of murder is acceptable.

The Catholic Herald documents this unbelievable travesty under the headline “Member of Vatican pro-life academy says Bible justifies abortion in exceptional cases.” The reference is to one Dr. Fishel Szlajen, a rabbi, “who sits on the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life” even though he “has said scripture justifies abortion in certain rare cases.”

The rabbi has declared that while abortion-on-demand is wrong: “In only one case does the Bible call for abortion: when the life of the conceptus inexorably threatens that of its mother.” Yes, a new member of the Pontifical Academy for “Life” declares that the Bible calls for abortion.

As the Herald explains: “Dr. Szlajen justifies this position by citing the Jewish law of the ‘rodef’, which allows people in certain circumstances to kill someone who is endangering the lives of others.” According to the Herald, Szlajen also maintains that “[c]ases of anencephaly, irreversible degenerative pathologies and terminal disease where the ‘conceptus’ will certainly die are examples of ‘tzorech gadol’ (grave necessity) where ‘abortion is permitted with severe restrictions.’”

Szlajen told the Herald that “these exceptions were ‘peripheral' to the main thrust of his article, which ‘centrally deals with the absolute prohibition of abortion on demand from the Bible, and the refutation of the arguments that are used for decriminalising it.”… ‘[T]he zygote is an actual living human being (and not a potential one), and all maturational changes are phenotypic but not genotypic ones.’ Only in ‘exceptional cases’, he said, when there is an ‘imminent threat of death from one human being to another’, does Jewish law permit abortion.”

Again, a little bit of murder is permissible under the Jewish law of “rodef.” But only if you just have to kill one person in order to save another from an “imminent threat of death.” As one of my editors points out, however, according to the logic of “rodef” one could kill an abortionist who was about to perform an abortion in those cases were Szlajen admits abortion would be wrong. What would Szlajen say to that? Here is what Saint Paul says in light of the Old Testament as fulfilled in the New: “Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).

But what does this Jewish law have to do with the Pontifical Academy for Life? Nothing, of course. But then the PontificalAcademy for Life is no longer really the PontificalAcademy for Life. Francis has seen to that.

In this connection, the Herald also reminds us that “Dr. Szlajen is not the only member of the academy to back abortion in certain circumstances. Before he was appointed, Professor Nigel Biggar said abortion was permissible before 18 weeks, adding: ‘It’s not clear that a human foetus is the same kind of thing as an adult.’ Another member of the academy, Rabbi Avraham Steinberg said the unborn child has ‘no human status’ before 40 days. After 40 days, it has ‘a certain status of a human being, not full status.’”

As the Herald notes: “John Paul II taught that it was part of the Church’s unchanging tradition that abortion was always wrong, and that ‘No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.’”

But that was then, and this is Francis, who does not seem to think that he is strictly bound by what the Church has constantly and infallibly taught. For him, it seems, divorce and “remarriage” are not always adultery, despite what Our Lord teaches. It all depends on “discernment” of “complex realities.” Are we now to conclude that, for him, abortion, being the deliberate killing of an innocent, is not absolutely wrong in absolutely every case, but rather might be defensible in “exceptional” cases based on “discernment” of “complex realities”? If not, then why are at least three defenders of abortion in “certain cases” sitting on his Pontifical Academy for “Life”?

May the good God soon deliver the Church from the midst of this ever-worsening debacle.