Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, eminent Italian bioethicist, dies at 90

Cardinal Elio Sgreccia praying at the Vigil for Life held at St Mary Majors Basilica in Rome Italy on March 24 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA 3 25 15 Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, prays at the Vigil for Life at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, March 24, 2015. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, a bioethicist and president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, died in his home in Rome Wednesday afternoon, one day before his 91st birthday.

Sgreccia had been hospitalized recently, but expressed the desire to return home, where, according to a statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life, "he died peacefully" June 5 at 12:15.

Called the father of Italian bioethics, in his retirement the cardinal was an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which he led as vice-president from its foundation in 1994 until 2005, and as president from 2005 to 2008.

Sgreccia also served the Italian government as a member of the Italian National Bioethics Committee from 1990 to 2006.

He published over 400 books and articles on the topic of medical science and ethics, including a manual on the fundamentals of bioethics and a book on St. John Paul II's teachings on the transmission of life.

In his masterwork, "Personalist Bioethics: Foundations and Applications," Sgreccia described his approach to bioethics as "ontologically grounded personalism."  

Sgreccia's niece Palma Sgreccia, a student and assistant of his, said the cardinal was "a man of faith, characterized by great sobriety of life, who has always tried to promote the good of all. He was guided by the inspiration of faith and the power of reason, in every choice and decision."

The Pontifical Academy for Life said June 5 it is "grateful for the positive and valuable work" of the cardinal "and for his important contribution on scientific topics and in the academic area, for the benefit of the Church's Magisterium."

As a priest, Sgreccia spent 10 years serving as a spiritual minister for the faculty of medicine and surgery at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, later becoming a bioethics instructor for the university.

He founded a bioethics center at Sacred Heart University, which he directed until 2006. He acted as the Holy See's observer on the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on Bioethics of the Council of Europe in the 1980s. Sgreccia was also the founder of the International Federation of Bioethics Centers and Institutions of Personalist Inspiration.

He was named secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family and appointed a titular bishop in late 1992, receiving episcopal ordination in January 1993.

Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in the November 2010 consistory, and he participated in the 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the family.

Sgreccia was born in the northern Italian region of Marche in 1928. At the end of World War II, he entered the seminary; he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Fano on June 29, 1952, at the age of 24. Before going into bioethics, he was a chaplain for Azione Cattolica youth groups and vice rector of his former seminary.

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