Glendon to lead Pontifical Academy


The Holy See has named Harvard Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon to lead the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, making her the highest-ranking female adviser in the Catholic Church. Glendon is firmly antiabortion and has been one of the leading legal experts for gay-marriage opponents in the Massachusetts legislature.

“The challenge of the church is to keep abreast of changes, but not dumb down its doctrine to the spirit of the age,” Glendon told the Associated Press.

In an interview with The Record, Glendon says about her appointment, “Though I am honored by the confidence it represents, I am also somewhat daunted at the prospect of presiding over an Academy composed of such extraordinary people – two Nobel prize winners in economics, a former prime minister, a former president” and over thirty scholars from various fields.

The theme for the Academy this year will be “Inter-generational Solidarity, Welfare and Human Ecology,” according to Glendon, and she says of its purpose, “The aim of the meeting is to begin examining the social, political, economic and environmental implications of recent changes in inter-generational relations, with a view toward setting the agenda for future meetings that will develop that theme further.”

Glendon says at the initial meeting the group will focus on the patterns of change in generational relations and analyzing the impact these changes have on the provision of social services in welfare and non-welfare states. “Our subject thus includes the much-discussed ‘crisis of the welfare state’ but is broader, being world-wide in scope,” she says. “Our speakers will include Francis Fukuyama, Academy economist Kenneth Arrow, Partha Dasgupta, Joseph Stiglitz, and the president of the Deutschen Bundesbank.”

The Academy has in previous years focused on work and employment, democracy, and social dimensions of globalization.

Glendon was the first woman to lead a delegation of the Holy See, at the United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. She describes herself at that conference as a “diplomat, advocate and negotiator” while “the work of the Academy is traditional scholarly work that assists the Catholic Church in developing its social doctrine.”

While her appointment elevates the role of women in an organization that has been run by men, Glendon admits surprise at the media’s attention on this factor with a Pope that has focused on increasing the role of women and the laity in the Church. “This pontificate has been marked by the steady movement of lay women and men into positions of leadership in all sorts of church institutions,” she comments. Citing his close relationships with the laity during his work in Poland as a priest and bishop, Glendon continues, “As Pope he has continued that model of close, complementary collaboration, emphasizing the primary responsibility of the laity in the social and political spheres.”

“So the significance of his own appointments of women will be, I hope, to encourage his brother priests and bishops around the world to do more of the same,” Glendon anticipates.

Glendon has been at the forefront of the recent debate on Beacon Hill about same-sex marriage, but she doubts her appointment is meant by the Church to send any kind of message. She says, “The appointment was probably based on the work I have done over the past ten years on the Academy’s democracy and globalization projects, and on the fact that I am the principal coordinator and researcher on the inter-generational solidarity/welfare project that will claim our attention for the next few years.”

Pope John Paul II established the Academy on January 1, 1994 to study and further the progress of the social sciences, including economics, sociology, law and political science. According to the Vatican website, “The Academy, through an appropriate dialogue, thus offers the Church the elements which she can use in the development of her social doctrine, and reflects on the application of that doctrine in contemporary society.”

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