Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(4) November 2017

Further Rumblings In The Vatican

Dr. Pravin Thevathasan

editorPrecisely, two years ago in the November 2015 issue of Catholic Medical Quarterly [1], I raised some concerns regarding certain policy decisions made by the Vatican. In doing so, I distinguished these from the infallible teachings of the Church. We may criticize the former but not the latter. I will once again detail some on-going concerns. In doing so, I distance myself from a small but vocal number of conservatives for whom criticism of Pope Francis has become somewhat personal. Our aim must always be fidelity to the faith that has been handed down to us. And we need to remain loyal to the successor of St Peter. I have previously indicated that this loyalty does not entail blind obedience.

Some of the recent appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life have been, to say the least, startling. Most famously, the Anglican theologian Nigel Biggar who supports abortion up to 18 weeks. [2]. He also believes that euthanasia may be offered to those who are so badly damaged that they can no longer be regarded as human persons[3]. Presumably, he would include those in a so-called persistent vegetative state.

Father Maurizio Chiodi, another appointment, is a Milanese moral theologian. He rejects the teaching of the Church on contraception. [4] He also led a committee that advocated for the "rights" of patients to create advanced directives that specify the withholding of food and water. [4] The Church teaches that food and water are basic care, not medical treatment.

In the same November 2015 issue, I also raised concerns regarding a so-called "Shadow Council" led by the German bishops. This was an attempt to move the Synod on the Family in a liberal direction. Professor Anne-Marie Pelletier was a participant and has been appointed to the Academy for Life.

There are a number of other appointments of individuals with no known pro-life views. This is because the pro-life oath formerly taken by the Academy has now been abolished. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who heads the Academy, is in the unfortunate position of being best known in some circles for having apparently commissioned a homoerotic mural for his cathedral church in 2007 [5]. He is also accused of being responsible for a disastrously explicit sex education program [6,7] and is known to have praised the propagandistic television show "Modern Family". Nevertheless, we must remain loyal to the Academy when it seeks to promote orthodox Catholic teachings.

Jerome Lejeune and Saint John Paul II would not have envisaged a time, it is said, when someone like Paglia would be heading this great Academy. The Pontifical Academy for Life is at risk of becoming like the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences: "Catholic" in the way that Georgetown and Notre Dame are "Catholic" universities. How ought we to respond? By supporting the Academy as far as our conscience will allow. There are some very good appointments including those of Cardinal Eijk and John Keown: we will  hope that they will resist any innovations made in the name of pastoral accommodation.

Having already invited Jeffrey Sachs and Joachim Schellnhuber to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Bishop Sanchez Sorondo has gone one step further by inviting Paul Ehrlich, the best known population control proponent in modern times and a zealous promoter of abortion [8]. There is something almost surreal going on here. Sometimes, words just fail. According to George Neumayr,  Margaret Archer of the same Academy identifies with the "Marxian left" and Partha Dasgupta, who is listed as an ordinary academician of the Academy, is a major proponent of contraception and population control [8].

Pope Francis prefers to appoint bishops who are not, in the words of Cardinal Cupich, "cultural warriors" [8]. In other words, they prefer not to emphasize issues relating to abortion and human sexuality and they feel more comfortable focusing on justice and peace issues. Neumayr has this to say about Cardinal Blase Cupich: "He is notorious for downplaying the issue of abortion... after undercover videos of grisly activities at Planned Parenthood in 2016, Cupich lectured pro-lifers on the importance of other "issues": "We should be no less appalled by the indifference toward (those)...who are denied rights by a broken immigration system, who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want...or who are executed by the state in the name of justice" [8]. And Cupich is not a unique figure. Does this mean we reject these more pastorally oriented bishops outright? Not at all: when they teach in accordance with what has always been taught, we will of course obey.

According to Neumayr, a liberal group of cardinals had "long groused about the “fundamentalist" views of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI”. [8] They bristled when Pope John Paul wrote in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor that situation ethics reinforces the moral relativism widespread in society...Through Pope Francis, the St Gallen group (of liberal cardinals) got its revenge in Amoris Laetitia where the pope implicitly challenges Veritatis Splendor by stating that the avoidance of adultery is a mere "ideal," which a Catholic can violate if he "discerns" that his circumstances and conscience justify it." How ought one to respond to these claims? As Catholics, we believe that our pope does indeed speak infallibly when he reiterates the constant teachings of the Church. In other words, there are many instances when he does not speak infallibly.

According to Monsignor Michel Schooyans: "Discussions during the Synod on the Family reveal the determination with which a group of pastors and theologians do not hesitate to undermine the Church's doctrinal cohesion...They operate with backing from some of the highest authorities in the Church. The main target of these activists is Christian morality..."

In conclusion, as I write this editorial at a time when a good friend has decided that Pope Francis is not really the pope, let us beware. We need to stay loyal to the Church that Our Lord Jesus Christ founded. And let us double our prayers for our bishops in general and for Pope Francis in particular.


  1. Thevathasan P. Own goals on abortion: conscientious objection must be preserved. Catholic Medical Quarterly 2015 Aug 65 (3)
  2. Baklinski P. Pope Francis appoints abortion supporter to Vatican pro-life academy (Internet). 2017 [cited 4 July 2017]. Available from
  3. Boer T. (2007). Recurring themes in the debate about euthanasia and assisted suicide. Journal of Religious Ethics, 35:,volume 3.
  4. Cretien C. New Vatican pro-life academy appointees support abortion, euthanasia, fornication, 2017 [cited 4 July 2017], Available from
  5. Cullinan Hoffman M. Vatican archbishop featured in homoerotic painting he commissioned 2017 [cited 4 July 2017]
  6. Baklinski P Vatican sex ed ‘surrenders’ to sexual revolution: Life and family leaders reactlife site news. Fri Jul 29, 2016
  7. What’s in the Vatican’s new sex-ed program? Jul 27, 2016
  8. Neumayr G. (2017) The Political Pope Published. Center Street 2017 p 97