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In a letter released on Wednesday, five members of the Pontifical Academy for Life criticized the recent actions of their head, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and suggested that he resign from his leadership of the academy. One signatory of the letter, Christine de Marcellus de Vollmer, told CNA that the academy president has caused “infinite problems.”
Archbishop Fisichella sparked controversy last March when he wrote an article for the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, appearing to defend doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old rape victim pregnant with twins in Recife, Brazil.
As a result of the prelate's statements in the Vatican paper, news outlets in Latin America began to assume that the Catholic Church had changed its teaching on abortion, particularly 'therapeutic abortion' in certain circumstances. In the wake of the controversy, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a clarification in July of 2009, saying abortion “has not been and can never be” accepted as Catholic teaching.
Though this clarification temporarily eased the minds of some members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, a recent assembly presided over by Archbishop Fisichella caused further concern.
One member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Christine de Vollmer, related the progression of events to CNA on Thursday.
Before the recent Pontifical assembly took place earlier this month, explained de Vollmer, “I was approached by CNS (Catholic News Service) and asked if we were going to ask for our President’s resignation. I answered that no, I felt that the issue had been taken care of by the CDF Clarification and that the issue of ‘therapeutic abortion,’ defended at that time by the OR article, had been corrected and settled clearly, in harmony with the Magisterium.”
“To our surprise and stupefaction, however,” de Vollmer said, “Archbishop Fisichella in his opening address attacked the large number of Members who had asked—him, and then in view of his refusal—the CDF for the Clarification. He referred to this action as 'an attack on him personally' as 'malice,' 'spite' and 'a desire to cause a situation of conflict.'”
“What was more grave, however,” de Vollmer noted, “is that he went on to say that his position in regard to the Recife case had been totally ‘vindicated’ by the CDF in its Clarification. He seemed to be referring to the first paragraph, which had attempted to ‘soften the blow’ and, we were told, had actually been doctored by himself, a member of CDF.”
“As this speech put our Academy once more in the position of seeming to approve the abortion of the twins in Recife, we felt that we had to make a clear statement,” de Vollmer said.
She further lamented, “Our President has caused infinite problems to the Academy, as our Members have all taken an oath to defend the Magisterium in all matters pertaining to human life. This solemn oath, taken before the Apostolic Nuncio in each of our countries, requires that we defend and preserve the teaching of the Gospel and the Holy Father in this matter wherever we find it threatened. In this case the threat comes from someone that, as an Archbishop, deserves our respect.”
“This is difficult and embarrassing position in which to put the Members,” de Vollmer noted. “It has also been a sad waste of the time and efforts of the members and the money that the Holy See has invested in the PAV (Pontifical Academy for Life). Most members seem to feel that our obedience to our oath and to the Holy Father and to the sacredness of life requires that we must defend the Magisterium in this case also. Many other members have expressed that they would have liked to sign with us. Collecting signatures is very time-consuming, however, and we wanted to respond at once.”
Also troubling to de Vollmer is that she feels she has been misrepresented in the media.
A Feb. 12 Catholic News Service article portrayed her as being at ease with how the situation currently stands within the PAV. But, de Vollmer emphasized to CNA, it is important to note that she had been interviewed on Feb. 9 and before the assembly where Archbishop Fisichella had made his “incendiary” statements.
The Academy for Life member charged that the CNS article “manipulated my statement to look as if I was 'satisfied that the issue was closed' (and) to look as if it had been made after the PAV meeting, when in fact it was said before the Archbishop’s incendiary speech insulting an important number of Members.”
A CNS spokesperson told CNA that the Agency "stands by its original reporting" and emphasized that "we clearly state in our Feb. 12 story that we interviewed Ms. Vollmer on Feb. 9. Nowhere in our story did we infer that Ms. Vollmer had spoken with us during or following the academy meeting. There was no indication in our story that Ms. Vollmer's comments on Feb. 9 represented her views on Feb. 12."
"There was no indication that there was any discontent in the meeting until Ms. Vollmer and her cohorts circulated the letter to the press on Feb. 18," CNS explained.
Christine de Vollmer also spoke on the significance of the backlash from the Archbishop's statements in the L'Osservatore Romano article, stressing that “the fallacy of Archbishop Fisichella’s position, stated in the original OR article and then of course defended in his tirade at the members who dared to request a clarification, was not only that abortion 'to save her life' was justified, but contains a perhaps more dangerous assumption: that the ‘moral decision’ is up to the doctor in cases of health.”
“It was absolutely imperative to point out that the CDF had not backed up his original article, but had felt it necessary to issue a clarification,” de Vollmer stressed.
When asked whether or not Academy members are explicitly calling for Archbishop Fisichella's resignation in their letter, de Vollmer told CNA that the “signers are not the ones who can call for the Archbishop’s resignation. That is the province of the Holy Father. We did express the hope that the Holy Father would reassign this brilliant man to a position more suited to his talents.”
“I think it must be a very difficult situation for the Holy Father to have in such a position a man who is not clear himself on the issue of Abortion and on the 'conscience of the doctor' and who could express what he did in his first article in the OR and then stick to it, even after one year and the whole Clarification process,” noted de Vollmer.
Other signatories of the letter include Professor Luke Gormally, Monsignor Michel Schooyans, Dr. Maria Smereczynska, and Dr. Thomas Ward.
Another pro-life leader has also voiced her agreement with the letter. Judie Brown, head of the American Life League, said on Thursday, “This statement, issued February 16 2010, is not only accurate but principled, courageous and definitive.”
“I stand with my five fellow Academy members and pray to God that Archbishop Rino Fisichella ultimately sees the damage created by his imprudent comments of the past, publicly corrects them and reconciles with those Academy members who have taken this public position in an effort to bring healing based on Christ’s truth rather than church politics.”
To read the full statement issued by the five Pontifical Academy for Life members, please visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=961.