How the Pontifical Academy for Life was undermined

In February 1994, St John Paul II founded the Pontifical Academy for Life for the study and defence of human life in all its stages. Christian pro-life groups globally looked to the Academy for inspiration and guidance as it became a very influential organisation.

However, the original purpose of the Pontifical Academy for Life has been undermined. For starters, Pope Francis changed its status dramatically in 2016. He abolished the pro-life declaration that had previously been a requirement for members of the Academy. He later appointed members to it, including a self-declared atheist, who supports abortion and opposes the teaching of the Church on life. In October 2022, he appointed Roberto Dell’Oro, Director of the Bioethics Institute and a Professor in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University (California), as one of 14 new ordinary members. Three days earlier, Dell’Oro strongly criticised Dobbs v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that restored to states the ability to offer legal protection to unborn children.

He also appointed Mariana Mazzucato who is an economist at University College London. Around the time of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Mazzucato’s tweets and retweets manifested a support for abortion “rights”. In an interview with journalists on his plane back to Rome from Bahrain on 6 November 2022, Pope Francis, said: “… I put on the family council Mazzucato, who is a great economist from the United States, to give a little more humanity to this.” That surely begs the question: “humanity” to what?

In 2021, the Pope appointed Cameroon-born and now a U.S. citizen, Dr John Nkengasong, as a member of the Academy. Nkengasong had been appointed in 2020 by President Biden to head the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). His appointment to that post was welcomed on 27 September 2021 by the CEO of Planned Parenthood with a statement saying: “We look forward to working together to expand access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services” which is code for abortion.

On 6 June last, 131 African lawmakers and religious leaders, including the Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, implored the U.S. Congress not to exploit PEPFAR to promote abortion. In a huge pro-life victory at the end of last month, the House of Representatives blocked President Biden from hijacking the PEPFAR programme to force Americans to fund abortions or the promotion of abortion worldwide.

Another papal appointment to the Academy was Sheila Dinotshe Tlou, a former health minister of Botswana, who serves on the oversight committee for a group that offers “supplies for safe abortion and post-abortion care.” It is equally easy to understand how the eyes of African religious and political leaders are raised when they see these types of papal appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The new statutes of the Academy state that members appointed by the Pope can be of any religion, though they should “promote and defend the principles regarding the value of life and dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way that conforms to the Magisterium of the Church.” How some recent appointees can meet that requirement is quite mysterious, but their appointments contribute to healthy “dialogue” according to the Vatican. Bizarre.

Judie Brown, President of the American Life League, served for 15 years as a member of the Academy. Commenting on above appointments, she said:This outrage is only made worse when we recognise that the Academy was established to fight against abortion… The principles that were held by the Academy’s first members, and that were once the bedrock upon which we all stood, have disappeared from view.”

Archbishop Vincenzio Paglia, President of the Academy, has compounded the problem by insisting that there is a difference between being “pro-abortion” and being “pro-choice.”

Some actions by Pope Francis continue to raise questions. In response to these dramatic changes, a new laity-led academy was launched in October 2017 that included former members of the Academy. Called the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family, it was founded to carry on the work that some fear the Pontifical Academy now appears to be abandoning. The new Academy addresses ethical truths concerning human life, death, and marriage from both a scientific and a theological point of view. As Saint John Paul II intended, it focuses on “interdisciplinary study and defence of human life in all its stages” and the “study of marriage and the human family.” (