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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - In spite of Vatican attempts to silence critics, backlash continues to mount in the wake of last month's shake-up at the John Paul II Institute in Rome.
In a letter published by Italian journalist Aldo Maria Valli last week, an anonymous Church insider described the outcry over the "violent upheaval of the teaching staff" and the "drastic distortion of the curriculum and orientation of academic research" as an unfolding firestorm "unprecedented in intensity and duration" during Pope Francis' pontificate.
Describing the institute's chancellor, Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, and president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, as "firefighters" aiming to snuff out criticism of the school's "new course," the author revealed that with "powerful means of mass media containment and threat deterrence at their fingertips," the pair have forced multiple journalists "to give up writing about the matter."
But, owing to the work of "several Italian and international newspapers and websites," these "firefighters ... cannot put out the fire," the source said.
A stream of criticism has followed last month's announcement that the institute's president was being dismissed, all institute professors suspended (pending final review) and the moral theology program discontinued — sweeping changes described by proponents inside the Holy See as part of Pope Francis' reforms, a program of "renewal in continuity."
Representing universities from across the world — including the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical University of Sant'Anselmo, the Catholic University of America, Franciscan University of Steubenville, University College London and Harvard University, among others — the scholars declared:
It is ... with great distress that we learned the news about the sudden dismissals of two full professors, José Noriega and Livio Melina, together with other colleagues: Maria Luisa Di Pietro, Stanisław Grygiel, Monika Grygiel, Przemysław Kwiatkowski, and Vittorina Marini. All of them are outstanding scholars of international reputation ... We cannot see any convincing reason — academic, doctrinal or disciplinary — which justifies their dismissal.
"If your institute wants to maintain its high academic profile and international reputation, we ask you to revoke these dismissals and to reassume the aforementioned scholars among the faculty of your Institute," the signatories added.
Others close to the institute have protested the recent moves.
Father José Granados, the school's vice president, has warned that the changes threaten to critically undermine the institute's identity.
More than 250 students have signed an open letter slamming the changes, which they say undermines the institute's core mission. The students have launched a website dedicated to exposing the dismissal of certain professors and the restructuring of institutional governance.
Some of the most damning criticism has come from St. John Paul II biographer George Weigel, who has excoriated the architect of the recent changes, Abp. Paglia:
That thes e Stalinistic acts of intellectual brigandage against the theological and pastoral heritage of Pope St. John Paul II are being carried out by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia — who came to international attention in 2017 for having commissioned a homoerotic fresco in the apse of the cathedral of Terni-Narni-Amelia — is ironic in the extreme. ... Paglia's appointment as Grand Chancellor of the John Paul II Institute — a position for which he had and has no discernible qualifications — was puzzling when it happened two years ago. ... [Paglia] is acting precisely like those who manipulated the Synods of 2014, 2015, and 2018, i.e., another cabal of ambitious (and, frankly, not-so-bright) clerics who continually lost arguments and then tried to compensate by brutality and threats.
Critics note that as the institute is purged of orthodox priests and professors, leftist clergy appear to be readying to take their place. Father Maurizio Chiodi — an openly pro-contraception, pro-gay priest — will be among the most prominent members of the revamped institute.
Initially founded in 1981 as the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the institute was re-established by Pope Francis in September 2017 and charged with a new mission: to help implement Amoris Laetitia, the Pope's controversial apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family, which has caused worldwide confusion over the issue of allowing the divorced and civilly remarried to receive Holy Communion.