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Vatican archbishop open to decriminalization of assisted suicide

April 24, 2023

The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life has said that the Church might accept the decriminalization of assisted suicide, in the latest clear sign that the body established by Pope John Paul II to defend the dignity of human life has radically changed its stance.

In an April 19 speech, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, which was published in Italy by the leftist journal Il Reformista, the archbishop said that a change in Italian law to allow for assisted suicide “could not be ruled out,” and in fact “is feasible in our society.”

Using an argument that will be familiar to pro-life Americans, Archbishop Paglia said that he was personally opposed to assisted suicide, but that in a pluralist society, “legal mediation may be the greatest common good concretely possible under the conditions we find ourselves in.”

Reacting to the furor caused by the archbishop’s statement, the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a clarification, underling Archbishop Paglia’s personal opposition to assisted suicide and stressing that he said “legal mediation (certainly not moral) is possible.” The statement went on to say that “Archbishop Paglia has always supported the need for accompaniment towards the sick in the terminal phase of life.”

In fact the archbishop has opened the door to discussion of assisted suicide in the past, when he said that he would be willing to “hold the hand” of someone who was in the process of committing assisted suicide. At the time, Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht strongly disagreed, saying that a priest “must not be present when euthanasia or assisted suicide is performed.” In response to Archbishop Paglia’s latest remark, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, protested on Twitter that the statement was “wrong and harmful.” He added: “It’s the kind of ‘crack in the wall’ that opponents of human life will run with to promote their agenda.” In other words, it is the sort of statement that the Pontifical Academy of Life was originally created to counteract.

While he said that he supports the Church’s clear condemnation of suicide, Archbishop Paglia told his audience on April 19 that “the Catholic Church does not have a package of pre-packaged truths.” He said that the challenge for the Church, in a secular society, is to engage in a dialogue that will find “the best way to articulate the good (ethical plane) and the just (legal plane) for each person and for society.”


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  • Posted by: vjenkins71201 - Apr. 26, 2023 5:52 PM ET USA

    When I read this story, I was appalled that a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life should even think such an "evil" thing like assisted suicide, let alone say it. That cardinal's remarks were out of line.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Apr. 25, 2023 6:42 PM ET USA

    I second poster dover beachcomber's point that a plenary indulgence should be available for "remaining faithful to Christ and His Church while this Pope & his minions are in power." But that puts us in a catch-22, as one of the conditions for the indulgence is to pray for the intentions of the Pope. Francis's intentions terrify me.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Apr. 25, 2023 1:29 AM ET USA

    Remaining faithful to Christ and His Church while this Pope and his minions are in power ought to be worth a plenary indulgence, I think. Surely the spiritual grit needed to refrain from exploding in anger daily against the works of these men represents some significant moral effort!

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 24, 2023 4:50 PM ET USA

    Equating "good" with "ethical" is like equating genuine Catholic charity with government welfare. The first demands reference to God, whereas the second excludes God in societies that rigorously enforce the "wall of separation" between "church and state". "Justice" in the "legal plane" can many times be found to be at odds with justice in the moral plane. In the legal plane, justice refers and defers to positive human law, whereas in the moral sphere justice refers and defers to the divine law.