Anglican appointment raises Catholic hackles

Traditionalist Catholics criticize appointment of Prof. Nigel Biggar to the Pontifical Academy for Life

The appointment by Pope Francis of an Anglican philosopher to the Pontifical Academy for Life has raised the hackles of Catholic conservatives, who charge the Rev. Professor Nigel Biggar with holding pro-abortion views.

 On 13 June Vatican Radio announced that Pope Francis had appointed 45 ordinary and 5 honorary members to the academy. Founded by Pope John Paul II, the Pontifical Academy for Life exists for “the promotion and defense of human life, especially regarding bioethics as it regards Christian morality”.

Four of the appointees announced are non-Christians — two Jews, a Muslim and a follower of Shintoism: Professor Mohamed Haddad,  Professor of Arab Civilization and Comparative Religion at the University of Carthage in Tunis; Professor Avraham Steinberg, Director of the Medical Ethics Unit of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem; Rabbi Fernando Szlajen, Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires; and Professor Shinya Yamanaka, Professor at the Center for Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University and a Nobel Laureate in Medicine in 2012.

The sole Anglican among those named to the Academy was Prof. Biggar, the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and the Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life at Oxford.

The Lifesite news service condemned the appointment of Canon Biggar. It cited a 2011 debate between Biggar and ethicist Peter Singer, where he said he would “draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness.”

Asked by Lifesite if his appointment reflected a shift in thinking by the Catholic Church on the topic, Canon Biggar said he was not inclined to think so.

“I am very sorry to disappoint you, but the issue of abortion is one on which I have views, but it is not one that I have thought about for a very long time,” he said.

“I believe that the reason for my recent appointment lies in my sustained work on the issues of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. On those issues my conclusions are consonant with the Church’s,” Canon Biggar added.


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