By Amedeo Lomonaco
Five years have passed since Pope Francis’ chirograph, or decree, dated 15 August 2016, appointing Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, as well as President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
As the years have passed, and especially during this last period marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, new challenges have emerged to Church teaching on the sanctity of all human life, according to Archbishop Paglia.
In the following interview with Vatican News, the Archbishop touches on the need to promote a “healthy concept of life”, as well as on the mission of the Institute he heads up.
What follows is a full translation of the interview from the original Italian:
Archbishop Paglia: The Institute needed a profound renewal, first of all in its curriculum on offer. The Institute’s new name both preserves the inspiration of John Paul II and adds two terms: theology and sciences. Thus, the new title is the “Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences”. In this sense, the new curriculum is really one that holistically addresses issues related to the family and marriage: from the theological to the moral, from the pastoral to the humanities, and from an anthropological point-of-view to legal and economic perspectives.
New tenured positions have been added so that reflection on this cornerstone of life, society, and the Church could be addressed in a careful and thorough manner and in dialogue with the entire tradition of the Church, keeping in mind conditions in the contemporary world.
Q: Has the pandemic had any effect on family-related studies?
In a sense, the pandemic has offered an extra impetus for reflecting on the connection the Institute wants to have with society. During the pandemic, we have offered considerations on emerging topics, especially through a new teaching position entitled "Gaudium et Spes", as well as through various seminars and lectures which have generated considerable interest. For example, the theme of the declining birth rate was addressed in a lecture given by a Chinese scientist who illustrated the problems in relation to the birth rate in China.
We have also addressed the theme of the family during this time of crisis. Numerous conferences were then broadcast via the web in every part of the world to help local Churches, along with the various Institutes on the family, regarding the important topic of Covid. The family has turned out to be a strategic center for survival concerning this dramatic situation which the pandemic has created throughout the world.
Q: Pope Francis' chirograph from 5 years ago also recalls your appointment as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. In the text, the Pope urged the Academy to address emerging challenges concerning the value of life.
This other entity of the Holy See—the Pontifical Academy for Life—has also received a new impetus following the Pope’s exhortation and the appointment he has entrusted to me. In this perspective, the very content of the word "life" has also expanded. For example, the dimension of a universal code of ethics is important, and this will be the theme of the next General Assembly. A special Foundation has also been created on the entire theme of new technologies, along with a Foundation on artificial intelligence.
This topic is also very important since new technologies are pushing a new frontier that will need to be crossed and the theme of life is essential to address it. A reflection group composed of theologians has been created, and, in recent weeks, they have launched an appeal to theologians and scientists in order to face the emergencies of our times together. Our is a time in which technology risks becoming the new religion of the future. In this regard, the Pontifical Academy for Life considers it necessary that both theology and science must find a new alliance, a new dialogue, and a new encounter.
Q: In Italy and in other places of the world, the debate on end-of-life care and euthanasia has been rekindled. What would you say is of particular cause for concern?
I am greatly concerned about this topic because it seems a vitalistic conception of life is creeping into the sensibility of the majority, one which emphasizes a youth- and health-focused concept of life. On the basis of this point-of-view, everything that does not correspond to a certain ideal of well-being and to a certain conception of health is expelled.
Within this concept lies the temptation of a new form of eugenics: Whoever is not born healthy must not be born. This is combined on the other end of the life spectrum with the idea that those who are alive but not healthy must also die: this is euthanasia. It is a dangerous insinuation which poisons society. Therefore, the Church must remind everyone that frailty and natural weakness is a constitutive part of human nature and the whole of creation.
What we need is a new relationship of fraternity among all people. Weakness demands the urgency of fraternity because it is in fraternity that we care for one another. It is through fraternity that we support one another. It is in fraternity—as expressed in the encyclical Fratelli tutti—that we can outline a more human future for all.
Q: So, in weakness lies our true strength…
Exactly. And it is no coincidence that the Pontifical Academy for Life has recently sought to call everyone—precisely because of the pandemic—to reflect on those people who have been effectively discarded and forgotten.
Some people have paid a bitter price for the pandemic, especially the elderly, the disabled, and children. There is an urgent need to start over again precisely from the weak and most fragile. In other words, only from the existential peripheries of life can we work to build a world that is truly and fully human for all. No one must be left behind.