A former member of the Pontifical Academy for Life has launched an independent organization he claims will work to “unfold the splendor of truth about life and family.” Josef Seifert, president of the new lay-run John Paul II Academy for Human Life and Family, announced the academy Oct. 18 in Rome at a conference on the topic of Blessed Paul VI's encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”

“The academy’s aim is to clarify, to teach and to spread that part of the truth about man and about God that serves human life and the natural family, and, through serving these, serves and glorifies God,” said Seifert.

Seifert, a philosophy professor from Austria, has taught at the University of Dallas. He was founding rector of the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein. Until recently, he had served as Dietrich von Hildebrand Chair for Realist Phenomenology at the International Academy of Philosophy-Instituto de Filosofía Edith Stein.

He has said he was forced to retire for asking whether parts of Pope Francis’ 2016 post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” led to the conclusion that there are no intrinsically wrong acts. He had previously been suspended from teaching seminarians, following the publication of a different essay criticizing the exhortation.

According to Seifert, the new organization aims to serve the same goals as the original Pontifical Academy for Life, founded in 1994 by St. John Paul II. This academy will be “a lay non-governmental organization that will remain independent of civil and religious organizations.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life is a team of scientists and ethicists representing different branches of biomedical sciences who are appointed by the Holy Father to work with Vatican dicasteries to discuss issues related to science and the protection of the dignity of human life. Under Pope Francis, its new statutes explicitly advocate care for the human person “at different stages of life” as well as an authentic “human ecology” that aims to restore balance in creation “between the human person and the entire universe.”

The American members of this academy appointed or confirmed by Pope Francis include Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; John M. Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia; and Kathleen M. Foley, M.D., attending neurologist in the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and professor of neurology, neuroscience, and clinical pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University.

In Nov. 2016, Pope Francis promulgated new statutes for the Pontifical Academy for Life, withdrawing the lifetime appointments of 139 members, including Seifert.  While 28 members were reappointed in June 2017, Seifert was not among them. The academy’s new statutes explicitly allow non-Catholics to be appointed to the pontifical academy, and establish that new members would no longer be required to sign a statement promising to defend life according to Catholic teaching. Some new appointees were criticized for apparent disagreement with Catholic teaching on questions like euthanasia.

Seifert said his new lay academy includes several former members of the pontifical academy. Most of these were lifetime members. The members of the new lay academy are “deeply committed” to the original pontifical academy and its goals as envisioned by St. John Paul II, he said. Their Catholic members are, in his words, “fully faithful to the authentic Magisterium and perennial doctrine of the Catholic Church,” while open to the truths of human reason. Membership in this lay academy is also open to non-Catholics.

The independent academy will also consider medical, social and health developments; “anti-life and gender ideology”; topics like “brain death”; and the ethics of death and transplant medicine.

In his remarks introducing the new lay academy, Seifert was critical of a “new emphasis on subjective conscience that would justify committing adultery, homosexual relations or even abortion subjectively.” He opposed the claim that God would want people to commit acts like adultery “because leaving our new partner might lead us to greater sins and cause greater evils.”

He emphasized the importance of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, encyclical Veritatis Splendor, and Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae to the new academy.