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VATICAN CITY, September 19, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis is replacing the renowned John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family with an institute focused on implementing Amoris Laetitia, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.

In an apostolic letter issued on September 19, the Pope formally establishes a new academic institution, called the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, to carry forward the work of the recent Synods on the Family. With the establishment of the new institute, the statutes of the original institute founded by St. John Paul II in 1981 “cease to exist.”

The letter, also known as a motu proprio, is entitled Summa familiae cura. It was signed by Pope Francis on September 8, 2017, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, just two days after the death of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the founding president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

As one of the four cardinal signatories to the dubia given to Pope Francis exactly one year ago today, Cardinal Caffarra expressed serious concerns about Amoris Laetitia, significant parts of which he found incompatible with John Paul II’s teachings and the Church’s magisterium. Not having received a response to the dubia, earlier this year Cardinal Caffarra wrote a second letter to Pope Francis on behalf of the four cardinals requesting a private audience to discuss the matter.

MUST READ: Did the Pope just answer the dubia by abolishing the John Paul II Institute?

In the motu proprio released by the Vatican today, Pope Francis notes the “useful work” carried out by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family since its founding, after the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family and John Paul II’s promulgation of Familiaris consortio. He adds, however, that the recent 2014-2015 Synods on the Family have “brought the Church a renewed awareness of … the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called to respond.”

“The anthropological-cultural change, which today influences all aspects of life and requires an analytic and diversified approach, does not allow us to limit ourselves to pastoral and missionary practices which reflect forms and models of the past,” he writes.

Instead, the Pope continues, we must interpret the faith “in a context in which individuals are less supported by social structures than in the past, in their family and emotional life.”  

“In the clear purpose of remaining faithful to the teaching of Christ,” he continues, “we must look with a loving intellect and with wise realism at the realities of the family today, in all its complexity, in its lights and in its shadows (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 32).”

For these reasons, Pope Francis explains, he has decided to give the John Paul Institute “a new legal framework,” and to establish a Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, “expanding its field of interest, both in terms of the new dimensions of the pastoral task and the ecclesial mission, as well as in the developments in human sciences and anthropological culture in such a fundamental field for the culture of life.”

It remains unclear, however, why “studies” is being replaced with “sciences” in the name of the new institute, or what exactly is “new” about the new institute, given that a permanent interdisciplinary perspective was part of the statutes established by John Paul II in Magnum Matrimonii sacramentum. In n. 3 of this document, Pope John Paul II granted legal recognition to the John Paul II Institute “in order that the truth about marriage and family [would be] investigated with an increasingly scientific method, and so that lay people, religious and priests might receive, in this area, a scientific formation in both philosophy and theology, and in the human sciences, so that their pastoral and ecclesial ministry might be carried out more suitably and effectively for the good of the People of God.”

John Paul II, therefore, granted the Institute the right to confer, de iure: the doctorate in Theology with a specialization in theological sciences of Marriage and Family; the license in Theology of Marriage and Family; and the diploma in science on marriage and family.

The pastoral, scientific, interdisciplinary approach to the study of Marriage and the Family was precisely Pope John Paul II’s genius and intuition. If there is something “new,” it lies elsewhere.

A survey of their diverse course titles and programs also reveals the John Paul II Institute's interdisciplinary way of teaching. In their Masters programs, for example, the institute collaborates closely with the Catholic University of Rome and Milan for science courses in sociology, psychology, medicine, and other fields.

In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Italian edition, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the institute’s grand chancellor, said the word “science” is being used to denote a “much broader dialogue with the great challenges of the contemporary world, and a deepening of the anthropological perspective.” He also said a “new reflection” is needed and that the new institute will study better and in a more robust fashion areas such as family history and family law.

Informed sources have suggested that changing “studies” to “sciences” could provide a pretense of a new interdisciplinary perspective (one which, in fact, the John Paul II Institute always had), in order to push through a more liberal agenda. A new direction, they say, could only have been given to the Institute by changing the name and statutes, while apparently treasuring the inheritance of John Paul II.

The Motu Proprio does, in fact, call for new statutes to be drawn up and approved by the Holy See. Until then, the statutes which have governed the John Paul II Institute until now will remain in force.

The new theological institute is being granted the faculty to grant de iure the following academic degrees: doctorate, license and diploma in Marriage and Family Sciences (4, § 3). 

Given that the new entity is being named a theological institute, it is unclear why the new degrees are in “Marriage and Family Sciences,” and not “Theology of Marriage and Family” or “Theology with specialization in theological sciences on Marriage and Family,” as the John Paul Institute had granted.

Like its predecessor, the new academic institution will continue to function as part of the Pontifical Lateran University. It will also work closely with the Holy See through the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Academy for Life and the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

“Thus renewed,” article 4, § 1 of the Motu Proprio states, the Pontifical Theological Institute “will adapt its structures and provide the necessary tools — Chairs, teachers, programs, administrative staff — to accomplish the scientific and ecclesial mission assigned to it.”