Pontifical Academy Defends Coronavirus Document That Did Not Mention God

The article, written by the philosopher Stefano Fontana, said that the document did not contain a single “explicit or implicit reference to God.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. (photo: Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).)

VATICAN CITY — The Pontifical Academy for Life has defended its latest document on the coronavirus crisis following criticism that it did not mention God.

A spokesman said July 30 that the text, Humana Communitas in the Age of the Pandemic: Untimely Meditations on Life’s Rebirth, was addressed to “the widest possible audience.”

“We are interested in entering into human situations, reading them in the light of faith, and in a way that speaks to the widest possible audience, to believers and non-believers, to all men and women ‘of good will,’” wrote Fabrizio Mastrofini, who serves in the press office of the pontifical academy, which is led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.

The spokesman’s comments came in response to a stinging July 28 article in the La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, an Italian Catholic website founded in 2012.

The article, written by the philosopher Stefano Fontana, said that the document did not contain a single “explicit or implicit reference to God.”

Noting that this was the pontifical academy’s second text on the pandemic, he wrote: “Just like the preceding document, this one too says nothing: above all it says nothing about life, which is the specific competence of the pontifical academy, and it also says nothing Catholic, that is to say anything inspired by the teaching of Our Lord.”

He continued: “One wonders who actually writes these documents. From the way these authors write, they seem to be anonymous functionaries of an anonymous institution of sociological studies. Their goal is to coin slogan-phrases in order to capture a snapshot of unspecified processes that are currently underway.”

Fontana concluded: “There is no doubt: it is a document that will please many people among the global elite. But it will displease -- if they even read it and understand it -- those who want the Pontifical Academy for Life to actually be the Pontifical Academy for Life.”

In response, Mastrofini urged critics to read three texts relating to the pontifical academy together. The first was Pope Francis’ 2019 letter Humana Communitas to the pontifical academy. The second was the academy’s March 30 note on the pandemic and the third was the most recent document.

He wrote: “As John XXIII said, it is not the Gospel that changes, it is we who understand it better and better. This is the work that the Pontifical Academy for Life is doing, in constant discernment: faith, the Gospel, the passion for humanity, expressed in the concrete events of our time.”

“This is why a debate on the merits of the contents of these three documents, to be read together, would be important. I do not know, at this point, whether philological ‘accounting’ work on how many times a few key words recur in a text is useful.”

In a reply published under Mastrofini’s response, Fontana stood by his criticisms. He argued that the document had reduced the pandemic to “a problem of ethics and the functioning of institutions.”

He wrote: “Any social agency could understand it that way. To resolve it, if it is really only this, there would be no need of Christ, but it would be enough to have medical volunteers, European Union money and a government that is not totally unprepared.”