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Vatican defends appointment of philosopher who once voiced support for limited abortio …

Oxford University professor of theology Nigel Biggar. Screenshot from YouTube.com

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Catholic Church remains opposed to abortion despite the controversial appointment of a British philosopher to the Vatican’s top ethics board who may have supported the limited use of abortion.

That’s according to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in defending the appointment of Nigel Biggar, an Oxford University professor of theology. Biggar came under criticism over his apparent support for abortion up to 18 weeks into pregnancy.

In a statement, Paglia wrote: “Our NO to abortion is a total NO.”

Biggar is one of 45 members appointed by Pope Francis to the academy last week.


RELATED: Pope Francis shakes up Vatican bioethics board


The Catholic Herald, a British newspaper, reported on an exchange that reportedly took place in 2011 between Biggar and the noted philosopher Peter Singer of Princeton University.

Nigel Biggar. Photo courtesy of Oxford University

According to the Catholic Herald, during that exchange, Biggar said: “I would be inclined to draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness.

“In terms of maintaining a strong social commitment to preserving human life in hindered forms, and in terms of not becoming too casual about killing human life, we need to draw the line much more conservatively.”

Paglia said Biggar’s appointment for the Vatican position had been recommended by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Paglia stressed that he was unaware of the 2011 conversation between the two philosophers.

“But I want to repeat that Professor Biggar has never published anything on the subject of abortion,” Paglia said.

The archbishop stressed that the church opposed every type of abortion.

“We serve and defend life, from the first moment of conception to its last breath,” Paglia said in his statement. “Nothing and no-one will ever change this clear commitment.”

Biggar was not available for comment on Tuesday (June 20).  But Paglia said the academy had been in contact with the theologian after the controversy broke.

And in an email to The Associated Press, Biggar reportedly said he had provided the Vatican with copies of remarks he had made about abortion over the past 30 years.

“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,” he reportedly said 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.”

Paglia said the academy members were looking at critical issues such as palliative care and the human genome.

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

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