In a rare display of ecclesiastical cross-purposes, Pope Francis has reversed the statement from his newly appointed head of the Academy for Life regarding care for a British baby suffering from a debilitating genetic condition.
On Sunday, Francis expressed his support for the parents of ten-month-old Charlie Gard, suggesting they be allowed to do everything possible to treat their son.
“The Holy Father follows with affection and commotion the situation of Charlie Gard, and expresses his own closeness to his parents,” reads a statement issued by Greg Burke, the papal spokesman.
“He prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”
The Pope’s words clashed with an earlier statement released by the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, the pope’s advisory panel on bioethical issues, which seemed to sympathize with the court ruling that barred the parents from pursuing an experimental treatment in the United States.
In a June 30 statement, the academy president Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia said while the parents’ wishes should be “heard and respected,” they must also be helped to understand the “unique difficulty of their situation” that includes accepting “the limits of medicine.”
“Likewise, the wishes of parents must heard and respected, but they too must be helped to understand the unique difficulty of their situation and not be left to face their painful decisions alone,” the statement read.
Stressing the “complexity of the situation,” the Archbishop declared that we must “recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs.”
Because of his condition, Charlie is unable to breathe without assistance, but his parents had raised money by crowd-funding to take their boy to the U.S. for trial therapy. Critics reacted strongly to the Vatican statement, saying it was condescending to the parents and failed to deal with the most crucial issue: illicit state usurpation of the parents’ rights to determine and act on their child’s best interests.
Doctors even refused to let Charlie’s parents take him home, insisting that he die in the hospital.
“We want to give him a bath at home, put him in a cot which he has never slept in, but we are now being denied that,” Gard’s father said. “We know what day our son is going to die but don’t get a say in how that will happen.”
The Pope’s public correction of the Paglia’s statement comes hard on the heels of recent controversy regarding the academy’s new membership, which includes Nigel Biggar, an Anglican bioethicist who has in the past supported legalized abortion up to 18 weeks and has expressed qualified support for euthanasia.
Archbishop Paglia had already earned the hostility of pro-life groups even prior to his recent statement regarding Charlie Gard.
In March, conservative groups went so far as to circulate a petition for the removal of the Archbishop as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, citing his remarks “expressing unqualified admiration for longtime friend Marco Pannella, one of Italy’s most radical proponents of the culture of death.”
Speaking about the pro-abortion founder of the Italian Radical Party, Paglia stated that he was “a man of great spirituality” and that his death was “a great loss, not only for the people of the Radical Party, but also for our country.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome