Pope Francis incenses the coffin of the late Cardinal Elio Sgreccia in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, June 7. Sgreccia (photo below), one of the Church’s most courageous moral theologians, died on June 5 in Rome
Sunday, June 9, 2019 — Feast of Pentecost
“When an obstacle or a problem arises on a man’s journey, he must not stop, or bend to events, or hide himself, but he must deploy his sail in order to sail into the oncoming wind, in search of a valid landing and of a humanly full and higher value solution.” —The late Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, a courageous moral theologian. Sgreccia died in Rome on June 5 at the age of 90 (link)
“I remember with a grateful spirit his great service to the Church, especially his precious and diligent work in defense of the fundamental value of human life… I extend my fervent prayers of suffrage so that the Lord… may welcome this zealous servant of the Gospel into His joy and eternal peace.” —Pope Francis, words in praise of Cardinal Sgreccia’s lifetime of defending human life. Francis, upon learning of the death of Cardinal Sgreccia, sent a telegram, including these phrases, to one of the cardinal’s surviving relatives
“Since the establishment of the Pontifical Academy on February 11, 1994, Cardinal Sgreccia has been the protagonist and courageous, wise heart of our institution, supporting and promoting the study, promotion and protection of human life.” —From a June 5 Press Release from the Pontifical Council for Life, which Sgreccia founded and led for many years, and of which he remained the President Emeritus right up until his death, making clear that Sgreccia was one of the great defenders of life in the Vatican and in the Church of our time
Funeral of Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, a “Father and Teacher” Faithful to Christ and His Church
The funeral of Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, who died on June 5 in Rome, took place at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter’s Basilica on June 7.
At the end of the celebration, Pope Francis presided over the rite of the Last Commendatio and of the Valedictio
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, deputy dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated the funeral Mass for Sgreccia, the president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
“We will miss his great capacity to involve people, organizations and institutions for an” alliance in favor of life,'” Cardinal Re said in his funeral homily. “But his organic and robust teaching will remain; his numerous publications will remain; above all his testimony will remain. He was a father and a teacher.”
Cardinal Sgreccia, Cardinal Re recalled, often had to sail “against the wind.”
“He explained the choice of this title,” Cardinal Re said, “by stating that, when an obstacle or a problem arises on a man’s journey, he must not stop, or bend to events, or hide himself, but he must re-set his sail in order to sail into the oncoming wind, and continue on toward his desired destination.”
“In other words, not flight, not compromise, but fidelity to principles and values, in close union with the Magisterium of the Church.”
“This,” Cardinal Re concluded, “was his criterion for action. He was always supported by his certainty — and the following are the words of Cardinal Sgreccia — that “the risen Jesus is with us and guides the Church: if we trust in Him we can go against the wind without sinking, and we can reach the port and the desired landing place.”
The words of Pope Francis
Upon learning of death of Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, June 5, 2019, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Francis sent his condolences to the cardinal’s niece, Professor Palma Sgreccia and Sgreccia’s relatives, in a telegram. “I remember with a grateful spirit his great service to the Church,” Pope Francis wrote, “especially his precious and diligent work in defense of the fundamental value of human life, by an action of capillary study, and by formation and evangelization.”
PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE PRESS RELEASE — June 5, 2019
The Pontifical Academy for Life, together with President Mons. Vincenzo Paglia, Chancellor Mons. Renzo Pegoraro, and the entire office staff announces with sadness the passing of his Eminence Cardinal Elio Sgreccia to the Home of his Heavenly Father earlier today.
Since the establishment of the Pontifical Academy on February 11, 1994, Cardinal Sgreccia has been the protagonist and courageous, wise heart of our institution, supporting and promoting the study, promotion and protection of human life amidst many challenges posed by recent progress in technology and medicine.
The Pontifical Academy for Life is grateful for the positive and valuable work carried out by Cardinal Sgreccia and for his important contribution to scientific discussions and academia on behalf of the Church’s Magisterium.
Cardinal Sgreccia has always continued to follow the activities of the Pontificial Academy, remaining constantly informed about its current activities and initiatives. With discretion and sensitivity, he has accompanied the work of the Pontifical Academy, participating in its important assemblies and in its meetings with the Holy Father.
The Pontifical Academy for Life continues with great fervor along the path begun by Cardinal Sgreccia, and with his same zeal in grasping the signs of the times and providing answers to the meaningful questions of contemporary humanity.
Cardinal Sgreccia was born on June 6, 1928 and was ordained a priest in 1952.
In 1974, he began serving as the Chaplain of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (in Rome, Italy).
In 1984, he became the first teacher of Bioethics at this same University, and he became a tenured professor in 1990.
He was the founder and director of the Bioethics magazine Medicina e Morale.
From 1992-2000 he was also the director of the Institute of Bioethics.
Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop on November 5, 1992.
He served as the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life from January 3, 2005 to June 17, 2008, and has remained President Emeritus to this day.
Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2010.
In his last days, after receiving care at Policlinico Gemelli Hospital, Cardinal Sgreccia expressed a desire to return to his home, where he died peacefully on Wednesday June 5, 2019 at 12:15pm.
His niece, Prof. Palma Sgreccia, who remained close to him throughout his life and death, remembered Cardinal Sgreccia as “a man of faith, characterized by a great temperance in lifestyle, who always tried to promote the good of all. He was guided by the light of faith and the strength of reason in his every choice and decision.”
The Homily of Cardinal Re at the Funeral of Cardinal Sgreccia
June 7, 2019
At the altar of the Chair of the Vatican basilica, the funeral of Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, took place on the morning of Friday 7 June.
At the end Pope Francis presided over the rite of the “last commendatio” and of the “valedictio”.
The Mass was celebrated by the vice-dean of the college of cardinals (we publish Re’s homily below). A number of cardinals and bishops, including the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, concelebrated. Among the cardinal’s relatives, the nieces Palma and Paola Sgreccia were present.
Cardinal Sgreccia will be buried in his hometown of Nidastore di Arcevia (Ancona), in the diocese of Fano-Fossombrone-Cagli-Pergola.
Homily at the Funeral
“Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom 14: 8)
By Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
These comforting words, which resonated in the second reading, illuminate our faith and support our hope in this moment in which, gathered around the altar of the Lord, we salute the cardinal Elio Sgreccia.
The Lord called him to himself on the eve of his 91th birthday, after a few months of illness and after a long life extraordinarily active and engaged, first in the pastoral field and then for 40 years in the scientific field with regard to issues related to bioethics. We can say that he had become not only an expert, but a point of reference in the Catholic world concerning questions relating to bioethics.
His episcopal motto “Ut vitam habeant” (“That they might have life”) recalls his ceaseless dedication to defend the sacredness of life from conception to natural end and to promote the “pastoral care of life.”
Ordained a priest in 1952 by the bishop of Fossombrone, after a couple of years of pastoral activity in favor of Catholic Action he was vice rector and then for six years rector of the regional seminary of Fano in the Marches region.
Those years saw him attend the University of Bologna, graduating in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy. In the Bolognese university he was also able to deepen the thought of the personalism of Maritain, Mounier and Gilson, which will then prove very useful to him.
A turning point in his priestly journey took place in 1974, when he was called to Rome as a spiritual assistant at the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and the Gemelli General Hospital.
This task led him to confront himself with a new pastoral dynamic, called to open up to the challenges of modernity in difficult years, which saw the student protests, the terrorism of the Red Brigades, and the law permitting abortion in Italy. But despite the difficulties, Monsignor Sgreccia would always remember those years, with gratitude to the Lord, for stimulating meetings with students, teachers, doctors and nurses from the Faculty of Medicine and the Gemelli Polyclinic.
An unforgettable event for Monsignor Sgreccia was May 13, 1981, when Pope John Paul II, after the shooting in Piazza San Pietro, was taken to Gemelli hospital.
Monsignor Sgreccia arrived almost immediately. Monsignor Stanislao Dziwisz asked him to give sacramental absolution to the Pope, while they were introducing him into the operating room. Then Monsignor Sgreccia remained in the next room to pray until the surgical intervention of Professor Crucitti ended.
The pastoral commitment, however, did not prevent Monsignor Sgreccia from continuing to cultivate his passion for scientific reflection.
Moreover, from the beginning of his pastoral work in the Catholic University, the rector Lazzati had asked him to collaborate in the preparation of the journal Medicina e morale, founded by a group of Catholic doctors, at the request of Father Agostino Gemelli. This commitment led him to study in depth the ethical and legal questions connected with artificial procreation, following the birth in 1978 of the first child conceived in a test tube in England.
At the beginning of the 1980s, on behalf of the Secretariat of State, he participated in some meetings organized by the Council of Europe Ethics Committee on issues related to bioethics.
After 10 years as a spiritual assistant, he was scheduled to return to the diocese of Fano, where his appointment as pastor of the ex-Cathedral of Fossombrone was scheduled. But the Secretariat of State made present to the Catholic University that it was appropriate not to deprive itself of the competence that Monsignor Sgreccia had acquired in the field of bioethics about the innovations that were appearing in the scientific field with important implications from the moral point of view.
Thus was born what was called the second life of the future Cardinal Sgreccia, that of the scholar and teacher of bioethics.
Initially he was given an optional course in bioethics in the Faculty of Medicine. Monsignor Sgreccia quickly wrote a bioethics manual for doctors and biologists, which received many appreciations and which subsequently had various editions. Meanwhile the rector Adriano Bausola established the chair of Bioethics, the first in Europe, in the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University. Monsignor Sgreccia won the competition.
The contribution given by Cardinal Sgreccia was remarkable, with publications and interventions, to clarify some hotly relevant issues such as organ donation, stem cells, conscientious objection, permanent vegetative state, criticism of gender theory.
In 1992 Pope John Paul II appointed Monsignor Sgreccia secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family and raised him to the episcopal dignity.
Despite the work at this Pontifical Council, Monsignor Sgreccia continued to teach at the Catholic University, but it soon became virtually impossible to carry out the two tasks well at the same time. As he was unable to find a successor for the teaching of bioethics, Pope John Paul II preferred that Monsignor Sgreccia leave the Pontifical Council for the Family to continue to devote himself to bioethics and appointed him president of the Academy for Life.
In the Consistory of November 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI included him among the cardinals.
Cardinals Sgreccia dedicated his last years to the “pastoral care of life” and, in this context, he founded the association Donum vitae “(“The gift of life”). Then to give strength and support to this activity, in agreement with the Vicariate of Rome, he gave birth to a foundation, which he called “Ut vitam habeant,” the words of the evangelist John, which were also his episcopal motto.
Last year the deceased cardinal published a kind of autobiography with the title two words: Against the Wind and, as a subtitle, A life for bioethics, in memory of the 40 years he had dedicated to this science.
Cardinal Sgreccia often had to go “against the wind.” He explained the choice of this title by stating that, when an obstacle or problem arises on the path of man, one must not stop, nor bend to events, nor hide oneself, but one must deploy the sail in search of a valid landing and of a humanly full and higher value solution.
In other words, not flight, not compromise, but fidelity to principles and values, in close union with the teaching of the Church.
This was his criterion of action. The certainty always held him — these are his words — that “the risen Jesus is with us and guides the Church: if we have faith we can go against the wind without sinking and we can reach the harbor and the desired landing” (see Contra vento).
One consideration comes naturally: how can we not thank Cardinal Sgreccia for the courage with which he has always defended the inalienable values of human life?
We all appreciated his tenacity in defending, with a calm but clear tone, the dignity and sacredness of human life, a commitment that characterized his entire life.
Furthermore, he was able to effectively promote the integration of Christian doctrine and scientific subjects.
Now we will miss the great capacity he had to involve people, organizations and institutions for an “alliance in favor of life.”
But his organic and robust teaching will remain; his numerous publications will remain; above all his testimony will remain. He was a father and a teacher.
The enthusiasm and dedication with which the deceased cardinal operated were the fruit of his solid faith, his personal convictions, his full fidelity to the magisterium, his priestly spirit.
The liturgy of this Mass invites us to look beyond the frontiers of death, towards that life in which Cardinal Elio Sgreccia has already entered.
The words echoed in the Gospel support us: “This is the will of my Father, that whoever sees the Son and believes in Him has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day “(Jn 6:37).
Eternal life is assured to those who believe in Christ. With the certainty that cardinal Sgreccia died the day before yesterday with the victory of death and the hope of eternal life, we now in prayer entrust his soul to the mercy of God.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom she was so devoted, accompany him.
May Christ welcome him in the immensity of his love.
—By Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re