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Vatican defends Anglican appointment to the Pontifical Academy for Life

Canon Nigel Biggar accused by traditionalists of holding views at odds with Catholic teaching on abortion

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia has defended the appointment of the Rev. Prof. Nigel Biggar to the Pontifical Academy for Life, telling La Stampa the Oxford Regius Professor of Moral Philosophy’s appointment was made in conjunction to his work in euthanasia, which Archbishop Paglia, the president of the Academy, said was consistent with Catholic teaching.

On Thursday Pope Francis appointed 45 scientists, senior clergy and academics to the Academy, which guides the church’s researches in “life” issues such as abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. Four new members of the academy come from non-Christian faiths — a Muslim, two Jews, and Shintoist. Canon Biggar was the sole appointment from the Anglican world.

After his appointment the Lifesite website reported that in a 2011 debate with Princeton’s Peter Singer, Canon Biggar had stated 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.”

The traditionalist news service criticized the appointment, noting Canon Biggar’s comments were at odds with Catholic moral teaching.

In an interview with La Stampa published on 17 June 2017, Archbishop Paglia (pictured) said the furore was much ado about nothing. Canon Biggar had been appointed to the Academy upon the recommendation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been asked by Pope Francis to put forward an Anglican for membership in the prestigious institute.

The archbishop said:

«La candidatura del professor Biggar è stata avanzata direttamente dal primate della Chiesa Anglicana, l’arcivescovo di Canterbury, Justin Welby, cui è stato chiesto nei mesi scorsi di segnalare un suo rappresentante».

“The nomination of Professor Biggar was made directly by the primate of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was asked in recent months to name a representative.”

«La polemica è nata in seguito al rinvenimento di una frase di Biggar in una intervista del 2011 in cui si dichiara propenso – di fronte ad un abortista violento – a limitare l’aborto entro la diciottesima settimana dopo il concepimento, al fine – e cito esattamente le sue parole – di mantenere un forte impegno sociale per preservare la vita umana in forme ostacolate, e di non fare diventare troppo “casuale” l’uccidere la vita umana.»

“The controversy arose after the discovery of Biggar’s comments in a 2011 interview where he stated he was inclined, when dealing with instances of violent abortion [caused by rape] to limit abortion to no later than the eighteenth week after conception, in order – and I quote exactly his words – to maintain a strong social commitment to preserve human life, and not to engender the ‘random’ taking of human life.”

«Questa non è certo né la posizione mia personale e tanto meno dell’Accademia. Va però aggiunto che Biggar, che abbiamo ricontattato in questi giorni, non solo mai ha pubblicato nulla sul tema dell’aborto – la sua specializzazione è infatti sui temi del fine vita dove ha una posizione assolutamente coincidente con quella cattolica – ma ha anche assicurato che non intende entrare in futuro nel dibattito su questo tema».

“This is certainly not my position nor the staff let alone the Academy. It should however be added that Biggar, whom we have contacted, not only has never published anything on abortion – his specialization is in fact on end of life issues where his views are the same as those held by the Catholic Church – but has given his assurances that he does not intend to contribute to this particular debate.”

Asked by La Stampa if Biggar’s appointment foreshadowed a change in church teaching on abortion, Archbishop Paglia said it did not. “It would be foolish to even think there would be a change.”

«Sarebbe sciocco anche soltanto pensare a un cambiamento».


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