Students Resist Upheaval at John Paul II Family Institute

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 29, 2019   

Petition laments loss of pontifical institute's 'identity' amid sweeping changes

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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - More than 150 students at an institute in Rome have signed a petition against the sweeping changes underway. 

Church Militant reported last week on a shake-up going on at the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science. Two priests who were professors of moral theology were informed of their dismissal from the institute, and other faculty were suspended pending final decisions about the curriculum. 

But students at the institute are pushing back. In a petition dated July 24, more than 150 students declared, "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."

It went on to say, "Many students have expressed their immense concern after the unexpected publication of the new statutes and the new program of studies for our new institute, together with the sad news of the expulsion of two professors whose chairs have a central role in the formation offered by the institute."

The letter was addressed to the institute's grand chancellor, Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, and its president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri.

The faculty overhaul is the result of new statutes for the John Paul II Institute, reportedly drawn up earlier this year by Abp. Paglia and Msgr. Sequeri, approved earlier this month.

Among other things, the new statutes give an unprecedented level of control to the grand chancellor.

An anonymous faculty member complained about this to Catholic News Agency, noting that Pope St. John Paul II intended for tenured professors to have a direct role in appointing new faculty.

"With this new process, the continuity of the identity of the institute is dead," the anonymous professor opined.

The professor also slammed the sudden dismissal of two professors of moral theology, Msgr. Livio Melina and Fr. José Noriega, saying, "I don't remember any academic precedent that has ever eliminated chairs and tenures by arguing that the current institute is a totally new organization and that therefore the previous professors with tenure have no rights: this is simply a juridical scam."

With this new process, the continuity of the identity of the institute is dead.

The two priests' dismissal is reportedly due to a decision to remove a moral theology course. The move is seemingly contrary to a statement Abp. Paglia made back in 2017, in which 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.

A July 24 article in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana noted, "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."

The new statutes that Paglia and Sequiri drew up were part of the fallout 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. 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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