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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Concerns are being raised about major changes unfolding at a pro-family, pro-marriage academic institute overseen by the Vatican.
The Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science is in the middle of a major shake-up, according to a piece released Wednesday in Italian Catholic publication La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. Two priests who were chairs of moral theology at the institute, Fr. José Noriega and Msgr. Livio Melina, have now been dismissed from their roles there, as part of sweeping changes called for by Pope Francis.
Father Noriega, chair of specific Moral Theology, and Msgr. Livio Melina, chair of Fundamental Moral Theology, were both told Monday that they are being dismissed. The priests' dismissal is reportedly due to a decision to remove a moral theology course.
All the institute's other professors received notice Monday that they were being officially suspended, pending final decisions about the upcoming academic year. Some may lose their positions, others may not. They were told that the final decisions would be made within a few days.
Overseeing the overhaul is the institute's grand chancellor, Abp. Vincenzo Paglia — president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The move seemingly contradicts a statement Abp. Paglia made in 2017, where he said the upcoming changes would not involve cutting faculty.
Monsignor Melina's dismissal is especially significant since he was president of the institute from 2006 to 2016 and has been involved in it since it began in the early 1980s.
Riccardo Cascioli, editor-in-chief at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, noted in Wednesday's article, "Above all, the dismissal of Monsignor Melina is of great and grave significance."
Cascioli noted elsewhere in the piece, "Melina had already entered the institute as a student at the time of its founding in 1982, to then be the first [institute student] to obtain a doctorate in 1985."
Church Militant reached out to Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute, a pro-family, Catholic non-profit that seeks to counter the ill effects of the sexual revolution. She commented on the dismissal of the two priests, "This is an act of intellectual vandalism."
"A good orthodox college should hire these two professors of moral theology," she added. "Any school that did so would certainly have a feather in their cap."
The overhaul is the result of new statutes for the John Paul II Institute, reportedly drawn up earlier this year by Abp. Paglia and the institute's president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri. Among other things, the new statutes give an unprecedented level of control to the grand chancellor.
The statutes themselves were part of the fall-out from Pope Francis' September 2017 apostolic letter Summa Familiae Cura. In that letter, Francis essentially ended the existing institute and established a new one, changing its official mission and updating its full name.
Soon after the document came out, Abp. Paglia commented that the restructuring would include additional "theological" and "scientific" focuses, as well as an added emphasis on "dialogue."
He also said, "It is clear that the dialogue with those who aren't Catholic must be done."
The release of Summa Familiae Cura came on Sept. 8, 2017, just two days after the Sept. 6 death of Cdl. Carlo Caffarra, the founder and former president of the institute.
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.
Pope St. John Paul II gave official approval for the institute that would later bear his name in October 1982 with the apostolic constitution Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum.
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