Poison-pen pals

The Vatican is hardly a site where intrigue is unknown, but a recent effort to discredit Archbishop Rino Fisichella has managed to raise some eyebrows. A letter has been circulated among various media outlets calling for Fisichella's removal. Signed by five members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, it suggests that Fisichella is insufficiently cognizant of "what absolute respect for innocent human lives  entails."   There is an odd echo of U.S. hyper-partisanship to the effort that suggests America's paranoid style--and its attendant reliance on character-assassination and the well-timed slinging of the sludge--may be germinating in unlikely places. Vatican  spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi called the circulation of such a letter "astounding."

From CNS:


Replacement of head of Academy for Life urged by five  members

VATICAN CITY  (CNS) -- Several members of the Pontifical Academy for Life have suggested  that the academy's president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, be replaced because  he "does not understand what absolute respect for innocent human lives entails."

The call came in a statement distributed to some news outlets  Feb. 18, five days after the academy ended an annual meeting at the Vatican.  It was signed by five of the academy's 159 members.

The Vatican  spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told journalists Feb. 19 that the  group had not yet made a copy of their letter available to Pope Benedict XVI  or the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

"It's a  bit strange that persons who are members of an academy address a request of  this kind without addressing it to the competent authorities," Father Lombardi  said. "It's astounding and seems incorrect that such a document be given  public circulation."

Father Lombardi also said "the natural place to  discuss" the group's criticisms would have been during the general assembly itself and not in the public arena.

The criticism of Archbishop  Fisichella stemmed from an article he wrote last year, which said a Brazilian  archbishop's response to an abortion performed on a 9-year-old girl had shown  a lack of pastoral care and compassion.

The Vatican, reportedly after  complaints from some Academy for Life members, later issued a clarification  reiterating its teaching against abortion and saying the Brazilian archbishop  had, in fact, acted with "pastoral delicacy" in the matter.

When the  academy met at the Vatican Feb. 11-13, many observers expected the  disagreement to take center stage. But the issue was not directly raised,  according to participants, and Archbishop Fisichella told Catholic News  Service that the atmosphere at the meeting was "serene and calm."

In  their statement, the five members said they had made "a political decision" to  not publicly question Archbishop Fisichella's leadership during the assembly's  proceedings because "an open challenge to (Archbishop) Fisichella in the assembly would have divided the academy."

Another reason the group  decided not to openly dissent during the meeting, it said, was because they  believed there was "a reasonable hope that the Holy Father will recognize the  need to provide (the archbishop) with an occupation better suited to his  abilities."

However, several days after the assembly concluded, the  group decided to publish its critical statement, in part because of an opening  address Archbishop Fisichella delivered to the academy Feb. 11. The statement  said the archbishop not only did not retract what he said in his 2009 article,  but claimed that the Vatican's subsequent clarification -- issued by the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- had vindicated  him.

According to the statement, Archbishop Fisichella described  criticism against him as "personal attacks ... motivated by  'spite.'"

The proceedings of the pontifical academy were not public.  Asked to verify the account given by the five signatories, an official at the  academy told CNS Feb. 19 that an academy member "has no right to publicize"  proceedings from a private meeting.

The statement said the lack of a  public and open challenge to Archbishop Fisichella "has created the  unfortunate impression that academicians are behind his presidency, resignedly  or otherwise."

"Far from creating unity and genuine harmony in the  academy, Archbishop Fisichella's address on the 11th of February had the  effect of confirming in the minds of many academicians the impression that we  are being led by an ecclesiastic who does not understand what absolute respect  for innocent human lives entails," it said.

"This is an absurd state of  affairs in a Pontifical Academy for Life, but one which can be rectified only  by those who are responsible for his appointment as president," it  said.

Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Fisichella as president of the  academy in 2008.

The signatories of the statement included: Luke  Gormally, a senior research fellow of the London-based Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics; Christine De Marcellus Vollmer, chairwoman of the  Washington-based Alliance for the Family; Msgr. Michel Schooyans, a retired  professor of theology and philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain,  Belgium; Dr. Maria Smereczynska of Poland; and Dr. Thomas Ward, president of  the U.K.-based National Association of Catholic Families.

Vollmer sent  Catholic News Service a copy of the statement Feb. 18. In an e-mail, she said  that despite hopes that the controversy over the Brazilian abortion had been  properly clarified, Archbishop Fisichella had "reignited the crisis" with his speech to the academy. 

The abortion case prompted an unusual series of  statements from different Vatican departments, as well as worldwide commentary. After doctors in Recife, Brazil, aborted the twins of the girl,  who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather, Archbishop Jose Cardoso  Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife announced the excommunication of the girl's mother and the doctors involved, saying the abortion was "a crime in the eyes of the church."

Archbishop Fisichella, in an article published March 15  in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reiterated the church's  teaching on the serious evil associated with direct abortion and the penalties  involved. But he also wrote that the local archbishop had put too much  emphasis on the punishment of automatic excommunication incurred by the girl's  parents and the doctors who carried out the abortion and didn't show enough  pastoral care or compassion for the people involved.

The girl "should  have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all  on her side," Archbishop Fisichella said.

Four months later, the  doctrinal congregation published in the Vatican newspaper a clarification  saying that any confusion over the church's stance on direct abortion had been  caused by "the manipulation and exploitation of Archbishop Rino Fisichella's  article."

Before the academy met at the Vatican, one of the five  signatories of the Feb. 16 statement, Msgr. Schooyans, had widely circulated  among journalists an article he wrote criticizing Archbishop  Fisichella.

While he didn't name the archbishop directly, the monsignor  quoted from the archbishop's March 15 article and said it was one example of  many in which some members of the church were engaged in a dangerous form of  "bogus compassion." Msgr. Schooyans was not present at the academy's  assembly.

When asked about the priest's critique, Archbishop Fisichella  told CNS Feb. 12, "If a member of the academy, if some people, for reasons of  political exploitation, wanted to misconstrue my words, it is not my responsibility. Rather it's the responsibility of those who wanted to create a  situation of conflict."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bill Collier
8 years 11 months ago
Sandro Magister also has background on this unfortunate matter at his Chiesa website:

James Lindsay
8 years 11 months ago
As the Lord says, by your fruits you shall know them. I am not shocked, sadly, on the conduct of some of the members of the academy. They have good intention, but you know where that road leads.
Winifred Holloway
8 years 11 months ago
"Bogus compassion?"  So is  excommunication of all involved real compassion?  It seems to me that Archbishop Fisichella reacted like a human of the Planet Earth.  His critics, not so much.
Jim McCrea
8 years 11 months ago
As St. Ronald Reagan used to say:  "There you go again!"


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