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Pontifical Academy for Life is betraying its founder, JPII biographer George Weigel says

George Weigel at the Angelicum in Rome, May 18, 2022. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, May 22, 2024 / 15:05 pm (CNA).

George Weigel, biographer of St. John Paul II, lamented that the Pontifical Academy for Life betrayed Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, its founding president, with a book that dissents from the pontiff’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

Weigel made the charge last week in his talk titled “St. John Paul II and Jérôme Lejeune: Two Lives at the Service of Life,” given as part of the second International Conference on Bioethics in Rome from May 17–18 in the Eternal City.

“For decades, the academy and the John Paul II Institute did creative, innovative work in developing a Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice capable of meeting the challenge of 21st-century assaults on the dignity and sanctity of life — and did so in ways that called the various expressions of the culture of death to conversion,” the author and theologian noted.

“Yet now,” Weigel continued, ”the academy has published a book with the ironic title ‘La Gioia della Vita,’ (‘The Joy of Life’) authored by theologians who can only be described honestly as dissenting from the authoritative teaching of Evangelium Vitae.”

“That book not only weakens the Catholic case for a culture of life that rejects the grave crimes against life identified by Evangelium Vitae. It does so in terms of an anti-biblical and anti-metaphysical anthropology that would have been completely foreign, indeed abhorrent, to both Jérôme Lejeune and John Paul II,” he pointed out.

In his presentation, Weigel further charged that “as the Pontifical Academy for Life betrays its founding president, Dr. Lejeune, by publishing and promoting such an ill-informed and poorly-argued book, so does the reconstituted John Paul II Institute, now largely bereft of students, betray the intention of the saint and scholar who founded it, and who called Catholic moral theology to a renewal that would not surrender to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, but rather convert it to right reason, true compassion, and the noble exercise of freedom.”

“And that is why we must hope that the deconstruction of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and the Family, a painful process that can be observed over the past decade, is halted, and then reversed, in the years ahead,” emphasized the eminent scholar of the life of St. John Paul II.

‘The Joy of Life’

On Feb. 9, the Vatican Publishing House published ”La Gioia della Vita” (”The Joy of Life”), whose prologue was written by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who sparked controversy for his statements about euthanasia in April 2023. The text contains “reflections on the challenges of contemporary theological ethics” by authors such as the priests Carlo Casalone and Maurizio Chiodi.

According to a March article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the book, “without revolutionizing Catholic doctrine, nevertheless outlines important openings on controversial topics such as contraception, medically assisted procreation, and assisted suicide.”

In January 2022, Casalone, a Jesuit priest, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, argued that the euthanasia bill in Italy was not contrary to the common good, a claim that was rejected by 60 pro-life organizations.

In August of that year, the academy published an interview with another of its members, Chiodi, who noted that Catholic teaching condemning contraceptives is open to “theological debate within the Church, even with the possibility of dissent.”

Another controversial book 

In a September 2022 open letter, nine international experts pointed out alleged serious errors disseminated in the Pontifical Academy for Life book titled Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, and Practical Challenges,” which promotes changing the teaching of the Catholic Church on the use of contraceptives.

Going back more than half a decade, a series of substantial changes has been made to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family as well as to its statues.

The changes, some of its former directors lamented in 2019, not only alienated the students but also are “a danger to maintaining the heritage” of the Polish saint.

Another consequence of the new statutes was “the drastic reduction of moral theology,” they lamented.

Who was Jérôme Lejeune?

Jérôme Lejeune (1926–1994) was the French doctor who discovered in 1958 the trisomy of chromosome pair 21, responsible for Down syndrome.

The discovery was published in the journal Nature in 1959. Since then Lejeune dedicated all his efforts to defending these children against attempts to exploit his discovery to justify the abortion of children with this condition.

This position meant that his candidacy for the 1970 Nobel Prize in Medicine was unsuccessful, despite the significance of his discovery.

Lejeune was the founding president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and his work contributed to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He is now in the process of beatification.

In his presentation, Weigel explained that the truths for the defense of life from conception to natural death do not need the gift of faith to be understood and “are not truths accessible to Catholics only.” 

“That is why the ongoing work of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation is so important,” he stressed in reference to the institution that promotes the principles of the famous French geneticist.

To conclude, Weigel expressed his hope that “Jérôme Lejeune’s heroic virtues will be officially recognized by the Church, so that he may join his friend, John Paul II, among the ranks of the beatified and canonized.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA

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