Controversy Continues at John Paul II Institute

News: World News
by David Nussman  •  •  July 31, 2019   

Conflicting accounts about students' letter that raised concerns about ongoing changes

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ROME ( - Controversy continues around the shake-up happening at the John Paul II Institute in Rome.

Church Militant reported July 26 on a shake-up underway at the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science.

Father José Noriega, chair of Specific Moral Theology, and Msgr. Livio Melina, chair of Fundamental Moral Theology and former institute president, were both told July 22 that they are being dismissed from their positions due to the removal of a moral theology course. Other faculty were put on notice that their contracts likewise might be allowed to expire, pending further decisions about curriculum changes.

In the wake of that news, more than 150 current and former students of the institute signed a petition expressing concern about the direction it is heading. Dated July 24, the petition stated, "We want to express our greatest concern: the loss of the formational approach, and therefore, of the identity of the Pontifical Theological Institute of John Paul II."

In a press release dated Monday, the John Paul II Institute responded to negative media coverage, saying there were inaccurate reports and false rumors. One part of the statement said that reports of a petition signed by more than 150 students were "false."

But those supposedly "false" reports were actually true, according to those responsible for the petition.

A website for the students' petition gives the following timeline: "The letter was written on 24 July 2019 and sent on 25 July at 11 a.m. to the email addresses of the president of the institute, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, copying the Grand Chancellor [Abp.] Vincenzo Paglia. Furthermore, on Friday 26 July, the letter was sent by post (registered letter), at 10 a.m."

The petitioners' site makes the full text of the letter available to the public and includes a full English translation.

The letter notes that Pope Francis wanted the John Paul II Institute to be faithful to the legacy of its namesake. It then opines:

It is astonishing that in the new ordinance of studies there is no mention of the Theology of the Body; there is no course dedicated to this topic nor to any of the teachings of John Paul II. Rather, everything seems to be reduced to the introductory course "La Communio personarum" ["the communion of persons"].

The president of the institute, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, mentioned the students' petition in an interview with Vatican News on Tuesday, saying:

The Secretariat has also notified me today of the arrival of a letter, signed by several dozen "students and former students" (we have had thousands, of course), which expresses concern about the possibility of losing the solid training support guaranteed by the institute and about the uncertainty concerning the passing and coordination of the new lessons.

In the opening paragraphs of the interview piece, Vatican News referred to the letter as being published Tuesday, with signatures from 241 students, both current and former.

Monsignor Sequeri remarked, "I am a bit surprised that the letter, addressed to me (and in fact to the Grand Chancellor, [Abp.] Vincenzo Paglia), has been made public before the recipients gave feedback and had material time to respond."

It is astonishing that in the new ordinance of studies there is no mention of the Theology of the Body; there is no course dedicated to this topic nor to any of the teachings of John Paul II.

The John Paul II Institute's press statement Monday argued that the various curricular changes represent "an enlargement of reflection on the family, not a replacement of some themes and topics for others."

It also clarified that there will still be moral theology classes, but the specific courses offered will be different from before:

As part of a strengthening of the Institute's theology course offerings, moral theology, far from being minimized, has been given a new and more specific emphasis, as evidenced by the twofold offering of Moral Theology of Marriage and the Family together with the Theological Ethics of Life. On the other hand, the course known as Fundamental Moral Theology is no longer part of the Institute's curriculum simply because it is already required in the "First Cycle" of theological programs, and completion of the First Cycle is a prerequisite for acceptance into the Institute.

The statement spoke to the rights of students, saying that "all the students were promptly informed of the approval of the new structure and were assured, in accordance with Article 89 of the Statutes, that the old programs will remain in effect for three years."

It added, "All students will be able to choose between the old and the new structures and will be given time to formulate new study programs if they choose."

On Tuesday, a piece from LifeSiteNews stated that a priest who believes artificial contraception is morally acceptable, in defiance of Catholic teaching, has been invited to teach at the John Paul II Institute.

Amid the changes at the institute, some have expressed concern about the apparent concentration of power in the hands of Abp. Paglia, the institute's grand chancellor. But the institute's recent statement tried to argue that these concerns are overblown.

As noted in previous articles, Abp. Paglia and Msgr. Sequeri are largely responsible for the changes happening now at the John Paul II Institute. The overhaul can be traced back to Pope Francis' September 2017 apostolic letter Summa Familiae Cura, which essentially ended the existing institute and established a new one, changing its mission and slightly altering its official name.

The release of Summa Familiae Cura came just two days after the death of Cdl. Carlo Caffarra. Then-Msgr. Caffarra was president of the John Paul II Institute during its founding in the early 1980s.

Cardinal Caffarra was one of the four cardinals who signed the dubia, a series of theological questions presented to Pope Francis that was made public in November 2016. The dubia sought clarity regarding Amoris Laetitia, a papal document criticized for being ambiguous and interpreted by some as supporting Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.

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