Vatican defends decision to include Anglican theologian in bioethics panel despite past abortion comments

The Vatican has defended its decision to include an Anglican theologian in its bioethics panel despite the new member's 2011 comment about condoning abortion until the 18th week of pregnancy, saying he was recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

(REUTERS / Paul Hanna)Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican is silhouetted during sunset in Rome, March 11, 2013.

After Pope Francis announced the new members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the panel's head Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia defended the Vatican's decision to name Oxford University professor Nigel Biggar as a member despite his past abortion comments. He also told Italy's La Stampa that the Catholic Church continues to adhere to its opposition to abortion, The Associated Press relayed.

In addition, Paglia told the Italian publication that the archbishop had personally recommended Biggar for the bioethics panel. He also said the Anglican ethicist had never written about abortion and assured that he will not debate on the issue while he is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

In an email to the AP, Biggar confirmed that the controversy over his appointment prompted Paglia's office to clarify his stance on abortion. He added that he gave the Vatican copies of his statements on abortion in the last three decades.

"Abortion is a very important and, I think, difficult moral issue. But, although I have provisional views about it, it is not one that I have published anything substantial on," Biggar told the AP in the email. "I have, on the other hand, written a lot about voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide, spoken about it in the U.K., Ireland, France, and Canada, and consistently opposed their legalization. On those two issues, my conclusions align with those of the Roman Catholic Church."

In November, Paglia implemented changes in the academy which removed the requirement for its new members to sign a vow to defend life according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. His actions raised concern among some of the panel's former members, with Latin American Alliance for the Family president Christine Vollmer saying the changes were tantamount to "elimination" of the academy, whose purpose is to counter the rising disregard for human life, the National Catholic Register noted.

There are many who reportedly see the change implemented by Paglia as a move that aims to replace members with new individuals who do not have as much passion to protect human life. The U.K.'s National Association of Catholic Families founder Dr. Thomas Ward, a former member of the panel, called the move as a step closer towards changing the Vatican's stance on sexual morality.