VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic apologist is using faulty analogies to justify Pope Francis' recent appointment of an influential pro-abortion atheist to the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Tim Staples, a senior apologist at Catholic Answers, compared Francis' nomination of atheist pro-abort professor Mariana Mazzucato to the prestigious pro-life body with Pope Benedict XVI's creation of the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" as a forum for dialogue with atheists.
The popular apologist went on to use two more faulty analogies, comparing Mazzucato's appointment to non-Catholic physicians serving on the Lourdes Medical Bureau, and the councils of Trent and Florence inviting Protestants and schismatics to resolve differences.
"The Church wants input from people that don't necessarily agree with us, and there's good that comes from that," Staples told a caller who asked why Francis had appointed "a doctor who is anti-life to the Pontifical Council [sic] for Life."
Somewhat embarrassed by the question asked during the show Open Forum on Tuesday, the defender of the Faith pointed to the fact that there were non-Catholics already appointed to the academy, including a Muslim.
"From the pope's perspective and from the Church's perspective, we are not worried [that] if we put a Muslim on this council, the Church is going to become Muslim," Staples replied.
"And next week, the pope is going to write an encyclical saying we all have to acknowledge Muhammad as our rasūl — our Apostle," the apologist facetiously continued. "And we are not worried that we are going to all become atheist."
"What the Holy Father often does — it's kind of like when Pope Benedict first became pope, and he had that famous symposium on atheism. He didn't just invite everybody who just agrees with him to speak," Staples argued.
"There were papers presented by people who radically disagreed with each other. And that's kind of what the Holy Father's doing here," the apologist pointed out.
Staples, a convert to Catholicism, conceded that there were people who would say "you shouldn't do that, and that's wrong." But "just understand where the Church is coming from," he pleaded. "The Church likes to get input from others."
The Catholic Answers apologist went on to use a second analogy, citing the inclusion of atheist medical experts in the Office of Medical Observations at the sanctuary of Lourdes for the determination of healing miracles.
Arguing that the Church includes atheist doctors at Lourdes for their "input," Staples asserted, "And you know what happens in the process? You know what's really cool? Atheists convert! You actually get conversions over time when you allow this kind of engagement."
"In the past, at the Council of Trent, we invited Protestants to come to the council and guaranteed them safe passage," Staples said. He also cited the Council of Florence's invitation to schismatics, "even though at the council we declared that schismatics are going to Hell."
The apologist went on to use the analogy of ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox in order to convert them to Catholicism.
"Pope Francis could cure cancer, and his detractors would say he did it on the Lord's Day, and he shouldn't be doing it on the Lord's Day, Staples exclaimed. "Don't allow yourself to get sucked into those who have come up with all these radical theories."
"Let's cut Tim a lot of slack because it's not easy answering questions off the cuff. But his answers were weak," eminent ethicist Dr. Michael Pakaluk told Church Militant. "It's simply absurd to say that positions at pontifical academies should be handed out in the hopes of converting atheists or pro-abortion activists."
Pakaluk, a professor of ethics and social philosophy at the Catholic University of America and a member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, elaborated:
We do no credit to the Catholic faith by putting forward these absurdities. When I was a Protestant, I was precisely concerned that I would be asked to contradict my conscience, to affirm whatever the pope said or did, when I became a Catholic.
In the modern world, it is possible to get input from these folks without appointing them to prestigious papal academies. I'm sure a scholar like Mazzucato would travel to the Vatican to be part of a symposium if you cover her expenses and offer an attractive honorarium.
"Jesus was no avoider of sinners, but he never set out to populate his Twelve with Pharisees or unrepentant adulterers. Biblical instructions for appointing Church leaders never include having a few atheists in the mix for mutual learning," Dave Brennan, director of Brephos, an ecclesial extension of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, U.K., told Church Militant.
"Staples' great error is to fail to distinguish between evangelism, interfaith dialogue, being aware of the opposition and its arguments (even to the point of learning from them), and being 'yoked together with unbelievers,'" Brennan lamented.
"A little yeast works through the whole batch, and unless this yeast is thrown out quickly, we are about to see the irreversible neutralization of a key pro-life institution," he stressed.
"The Pontifical Academy for Life is not a symposium, a colloquium or a convention and isn't meant to have members opposed to Catholic teaching (as opposed to hearing from them). A member has to fulfill specific criteria to be considered," Mark Lambert, the cofounder of Defending the Integrity of Catholic Education told Church Militant.
Respondents to Staples' defense pointed to his use of faulty analogy — a logical fallacy that consists in assuming that just because two things are alike in one or more respects, they are necessarily alike in some other respect.
"There's no difference between soccer and tennis. They are both played on a rectangle with balls," is one example of a faulty analogy, logicians observe.
Referring to Lourdes, Dr. Travis Jon Dichoso says that "throughout its history, physicians, of any or no faith, have been invited to participate in the proceedings of the investigations of each claimed cure," which are then "handled by the Lourdes Medical Bureau and the Lourdes International Medical Association." Dr. Dichoso wrote this in The Linacre Quarterly, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Atheists are included to ensure that the process is unbiased, rigorous and based strictly on medical criteria. Including non-believing doctors is an apologetic mechanism designed to protect the Lourdes shrine from the criticism of skeptics who might be tempted to dismiss Marian miracles as fraudulent or psychosomatic.
The Council of Trent invited Protestants to offer them a chance for reconciliation, intending to resolve the differences over the Protestant schism.
The invitation was extended at the insistence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Although Protestants were invited, none participated.
According to the council's documents, the invitation was made to "all those, who hold not Communion with us, to come to a Concord and Reconciliation" so they may not "harden their hearts" but "be excited and converted to the so holy and wholesome admonition of their Mother [Church]."
"Even though Catholic Church leadership invited Protestants to participate at the Council of Trent, they did not intend the kind of open dialogue that German and Swiss reformers wanted," writes historian Kathleen M. Comerford in the academic anthology John Calvin in Context.
Pope Benedict XVI created the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" in 2009 as part of the Department for Culture and Education, since the Vatican already had a forum for dialogue with people of other religions but no existing platform for encountering atheists.
"To the dialogue with religions today must be added, above all, the dialogue with those for whom religion is a foreign thing," Benedict declared.
The forum is modeled on the section of the ancient Jerusalem temple structure dedicated to Gentiles "who approached the sacred space to question the rabbis and the teachers of the law with questions about religion, mystery, and God," the Vatican explained.
Francis' appointment of Mazzucato violates the pontiff's own 2016 statutes, which require members to "commit themselves to promoting and defending the principles regarding the value of life and the dignity of the human person" in a way "consonant with the Church's Magisterium," Church Militant reported.
Last week, Church Militant reported on the pope's appointment of two more pro-abort members to the pontifical academy — bioethicist Dr. Roberto Dell'Oro and professor Sheila Dinotshe Tlou.
While Dell'Oro supports abortion before "fetal pain" and is a fierce critic of the pro-life decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, he "has a history of advocating for contraception, abortion and policies wherein the fertility of poor people is linked to their poverty."
In 2020, Staples sparked an explosive debate after he evaded a charged question asking whether the Catechism was right to affirm that Muslims "together with us [Catholics] adore the one, merciful God."
Staples later reiterated his support for controversial Vatican II claims about Islam, clarifying explicitly that Allah and the Holy Trinity refer to the same God.
"I don't think you yet understand the position of the Catholic Church. Even though it is true that 'Allah' and the Blessed Trinity are each referring to the same God," Staples told Church Militant.