Pontifical Academy for Life, XXV Annual Meeting, opening address

Eminences, Excellencies, Esteemed Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we begin our Annual Meeting and at the same time we celebrate the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the foundation of our Academy, established on February 11, 1994 by Saint John Paul II, who was encouraged and inspired by the Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune.  Thank you, Madame Lejeune, for your presence here today that testifies to us the greatness of these two worthy servants of human life.

Saint John Paul II, in the Motu Proprio by which he created the Academy, wrote: “The mystery of life, and of human life in particular, is attracting the increased attention of experts who are drawn by the extraordinary opportunities for investigation that scientific and technological advances offer their research today. While this new situation opens fascinating horizons for intervention at the sources of life itself, it also gives rise to a variety of new moral questions that man cannot ignore without the risk of taking steps that could prove irreversible.” Today, twenty-five years later, these words are even more urgent and decisive.  Human life is truly a mystery, a promising and irreducible reality, never definitively codifiable and always a source of revelation; at the same time, technology and science have achieved a fascinating effectiveness and a pervasiveness that, together, fascinate and worry.  Ethical questions, connected and centered within a broader anthropological reflection, are today more urgent than ever.

Pope Francis, in the reform of the Academy he carried out in 2016 and later in the Letter Humana Communitas that he wanted to write to us on this Anniversary, confirms the intuition of his predecessor, and gives new impetus to our work.  To his thanks for the Academy’s twenty-five years of activity I add my own, which I offer first to the several Presidents who have succeeded one another in leading this scientific body—Professor Correa, Cardinal Sgreccia, Archbishop Fisichella and Bishop Carrasco—and to all the Members, the Chancellors, the Staff and the many friends who have given strength and content to our history.

Pope Francis, in the title of the Letter addressed to the Academy, Humana Communitas, indicates the horizon along which to exercise our commitment.  With the Encyclical Laudato si’ Pope Francis has called everyone to care for creation as a “common home.”  It is a courageous and urgent appeal that gives everyone the responsibility for facing the ecological and social challenges that put the future of the planet at risk.  Today, as in a diptych, renewed attention is increasingly asked of those who live in that home, that is, of the whole human family.  In fact, the question addresses not only the naturalistic aspect of the environment but also the social dimension of the human community. We cannot fail to call to mind the epochal first page of the Bible, perhaps unique in human history, when “creation” was made part of God’s covenant with man and woman, that is to say with the whole the human family.

The horizon that the Pope opens to the Academy for Life seems to me an invitation to a deep understanding of the meaning of “Life,” in the fulness of its real and semantic unity.  “Life” is not an abstract universal concept: it is the human person in his history and in his relationships; it is the whole human family understood as a subject that dwells in creation; it is humanity being responsible for, and caring for, the quality of life.  The Pope is concerned with the ethical, political, and spiritual weakening of the bonds that create brotherhood, based above all on the mutual and friendly recognition of a common origin, of a common condition, of a common destiny, “We should keep in mind that fraternity remains the unkept promise of modernity. The universal spirit of fraternity that grows by mutual trust–within modern civil society and between peoples and nations–appears much weakened. The strengthening of fraternity, generated in the human family by the worship of God in spirit and truth, is the new frontier of Christianity.”  It is a challenge that affects the entire planet and therefore the entire human community.  The weakening of brotherhood – whether we like it or not – contaminates all the sciences of man and of life.

Human life, understandable only in the context of its historical and concrete relationships, which preserve it from every sterile and reductive ideological interpretation, also needs a global view:  vigilance at the beginning of human life must be ever more attentive, precisely because it is always more exposed to the throw-away culture that technological advances make all too easy; and for the same reason we cannot lower our ethical guard over that passage to eternal life that we all must experience.  These are crucial moments where the dignity of every human person is seriously at risk.  If life is not guarded and loved in its arrival and departure, it certainly will not be recognized in the concrete circumstances it encounters along its way, in which the love that makes us worthy of God’s promise is repeatedly tested.  Precisely for this reason, twenty-five years after the foundation of the Academy, we are asked to cultivate life at every stage, taking into consideration its continuity and the breadth of the risks it runs throughout the years of every man and every woman.  There is no room for any ideological reductionism regarding the consistency of this wider vision with the fundamental inspiration of the mission given to our Academy at its founding.  The attention given to the different ages of life and to the contexts where they unfold is therefore crucial:  the pervasiveness of a utilitarian and technocratic mentality – that picks and chooses without conscience – that works against the acceptance of and respect for weak and wounded human life, produces widespread moral uncertainty and psychological vulnerability, weakening all the social bonds to which the dignity of and respect for life are naturally entrusted.  The horizon offered by Global Bioethics shows, precisely in this perspective, the relevance and fruitfulness of its approach.  The Proceedings of our Meeting last year, which was dedicated specifically to this issue, have just arrived from the printers and I will present them to you with great pleasure.

The fascinating but worrisome impact that technology has today have on the understanding of human life in its concrete forms—Pope Francis speaks of the appearance of new “convergent technologies” as needing ethical consideration worldwide—will find in the many initiatives planned for the two-year period 2019-2020, an area for study that justifies rigorous analysis and passionate commitment.  This year’s Meeting, dedicated to the ethical questions surrounding “robotics,” together with next year’s that will be deal with artificial intelligence are the two main mileposts on a longer road, which we already know will lead to cooperation with other important bodies as a result of the interest that the Academy has aroused in these subjects.  In this context, let me mention the recent meeting we organized between the Holy Father and Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, who is deeply interested in the anthropological implications of new technologies.

The task entrusted by the Pope to the Academy has at least a threefold methodological aspect.  First, the Catholic Church does not look at scientific research simply as a “contemporary and effective” tool to find proof of the Gospel message and its ethical implications.  Scientific investigation, when it is dedicated to the dispassionate search for the truth, is always to be supported and admired, even when it asks questions and raises doubts that challenge the faith in a new way and using original expressions.

Next, the passionate and free study of man and his world is, in fact, always an investigation into the work of God and His plan.  This is the science that we promote, and we welcome all those whose lives are dedicated to research with passion and generosity.  We are convinced that the progress of scientific endeavor is a benefit for anthropological and, above all, theological reflection.  Open dialogue and rational investigation are the tack that the most genuine theology has always taken, overcoming the temptation to set up an insurmountable barrier and principled opposition between the intellectual resources present in the cultures of various epochs and that intelligence which is dedicated to the understanding and communication of the faith.  Only in respectful and honest dialogue with the contemporary world can there be a genuine deepening of the experience of faith and an ethical reflection that is not limited to deductive repetition of obsolete syllogisms.

Third, the Pope urges the Academy to enter the territories of science and technology and to explore them with boldness and creativity, wisdom and discernment.  This means refusing to deduce prefabricated answers from a preconceived theory.  First of all, listen attentively to phenomena in their complexity to understand how new discoveries of science and technology affect our humanity.  Formulate criteria of interpretation and evaluation that produce viable information for the benefit of the dignity of every person and of all the populations that inhabit the planet.  This activity involves the development of a moral conscience that doesn’t limit itself to the drafting of rules of comportment but rather makes itself able to gather consciences around responsible action.  Its appeal must be addressed to the sensitivity of the person (the “heart” of which the Gospel speaks), to the responsibility of the people (the “closeness” of which the Gospel speaks), in which the ethical dimension and the spiritual quality of life are born and grow together.

Dear friends, by being open to these themes and perspectives, which call for our commitment and our drive directed toward the future, the Academy celebrates its Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.   We are as old as a mature young adult.  We are at an age that does not run away from the burdens of responsibility, that accepts generously the trials of history, and is ready to take on the happy task of generating, watching over and renewing the whole world.  Today we give thanks to God for this history and these tasks.  For the future that has been entrusted to us, we rely on our common commitment.  Amen.

Thank you.