Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s new daily newsletter.
I’m Luke Coppen and I hope to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.
😇 Today’s saint: St. Paul of the Cross.
📜 Today’s readings: Eph 3:14-21 ▪ Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19 ▪ Lk 12:49-53.
🗞 Starting seven
2: Star witness Msgr. Alberto Perlasca faces three days of questioning in the Vatican finance trial, beginning Nov. 23 (Italian report).
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Papal audiences with participants in the Missionaries of Mariannhill’s General Chapter; Honduran President Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento; Brazilian bishops on their ad limina visit; Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
🧐 Look closer
Pontifical Academy for Life? On Oct. 15, the Vatican announced new appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life, founded by Pope John Paul II in 1994 with “the specific task of studying, informing and offering formation about the main problems of biomedicine and law related to the promotion and defense of life.”
Since the nomination of Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as its president in 2016, the pontifical academy has become one of the Vatican’s most controversial bodies. One source of contention is the background of the institution’s members, who are appointed for five-year terms.
In 2017, Paglia was forced to defend the selection of British Anglican theologian Nigel Biggar, who appeared to support abortion up to 18 weeks.
What’s happened now? Among the new members announced on Saturday is the Italian economist Mariana Mazzucato, who Pope Francis cited approvingly in his book “Let Us Dream.” Critics deplored the choice, pointing out that she described herself as an atheist on social media and lamented the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Another controversial appointee is Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, head of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in Rome, who was named a member of the pontifical academy’s governing council. The French theologian has been accused of seeking to undermine the encyclical Humanae vitae, but insists his writings have been misunderstood
Spanish doctor José María Simón Castellví, a former president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC), suggested that appointments since the pontifical academy’s 2016 overhaul marked a departure from John Paul II’s vision.
In an article headlined “Academy for Life: I can’t remain silent anymore,” he said that “pro-abortion academics, defenders of euthanasia to some degree, or detractors of Humanae vitae were and continue to be appointed, just the opposite of what John Paul II desired and what is reasonable for the good of the pilgrim Church on this earth. And valuable scientists, defenders of Life, were left aside.”
Princeton professor Robert P. George expressed concern at Mazzucato’s appointment.
He told CNA: “The Pontifical Academy for Life exists to advance the Church’s mission to foster respect for the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family, beginning with the precious child in the womb. Either one believes in this mission or one does not. If one does not, then why would one wish to be part of the Pontifical Academy?”
What’s the pontifical academy saying? The institution defended its vetting procedures in a statement sent to Vatican journalists on Wednesday, CNA reported.
“All Academicians are chosen from among scientists and experts of absolute importance, as Pope Francis reiterated in the letter Humana Communitas of 2019 to the Pontifical Academy for Life. The nominations of the Ordinary Academicians are made by the pope,” it said. “Therefore, before being nominated, the names proposed or reported go through a procedure that foresees the consultation of the apostolic nuncio and the episcopal conference of the countries where the Academicians live and work. It also happened in this case and there were no problems.”
The pontifical academy highlighted a statement signed by the 77-year-old Archbishop Paglia welcoming the new appointments, in which he said “it is important that the Pontifical Academy for Life include women and men with expertise in various disciplines and from different backgrounds, for a constant and fruitful interdisciplinary, intercultural and interreligious dialogue.”
What’s next The pontifical academy’s leaders may be hoping they have done enough to quell the latest controversy. Mazzucato is yet to respond publicly to the criticism of her appointment, but could address the furor soon — as could other members who have misgivings about the institution’s direction. Any such interventions would keep the debate alive.
🔍 Stories to watch
🇨🇲 Kidnappers have released a video in which five Catholic priests, a nun, and three others seized at a parish in Cameroon urge their bishop to secure their release.
🇮🇩 A Catholic archdiocese in Indonesia has issued an appeal for “ecological repentance.”
📅 Coming soon
Oct. 23 World Mission Day.
Oct. 24 French President Emmanuel Macron to meet with Pope Francis.
Oct. 26 Trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen due to resume.
Oct. 27 CCEE online plenary assembly begins.
Have a blessed feast of St. Paul of the Cross.