October 11, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the redesigned “John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences” defended recent changes to the personnel and the courses in an interview with the French progressive Catholic daily La Croix.
“Many fantasies have surrounded its restructuring,” he told journalists Céline Hoyeau and Nicolas Senèze, arguing that “the vast majority” of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family’s professors and curricula have been maintained.
He also agreed with the interviewers that there is today an “ideologization of John Paul II’s theology” which leads some to act as “Protestants” in choosing to oppose certain developments in theology and “standing up” against the present pope.
The article makes no mention of the specific criticisms leveled at the new institute by former professors, in particular those of its former head, Msgr. Livio Melina, who commented in August on the revamping of the institute by its new grand chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia:
“If the decisions taken by Archbishop Paglia are not revoked, then what they are saying is: ‘The interpretation of the Magisterium of Pope Francis in continuity with the previous Magisterium is intolerable in the Church.’”
In Sequeri’s interview with La Croix, he reacted to a general question on the “criticisms” that surrounded the “reform” of the institute with these words:
“I would like to fight the idea that this new institute was built on the will to destroy what was done previously and on a theology that would be an adaptation to the world and endanger the integrity of Catholic doctrine. Many fantasies have surrounded its restructuring. But I advise all those who are concerned to look at our programs and the identity of our teachers, all of whom have been validated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Stating that most of the former teaching staff had their contract renewed, Sequeri underscored the fact that “the course on the Theology of the Body of John Paul II was maintained, as was the Wojtyla Chair.” He said the “link with the tradition of the institute” had been maintained, adding, “We really cannot say that Catholic doctrine is in peril even though our mental habits may receive an aggiornamento.”
“Aggiornamento” is the word used at the time of Vatican II to describe the Church’s adaptation to the challenges of modernity.
No questions were asked by Hoyeau and Senèze – the latter having recently authored a book suggesting that rich Americans are conspiring to “change popes” (Comment l’Amérique veut changer de Pape) – about the ousting of Melina and his moral theology course, and the hiring of pro-contraception Fr. Maurizio Chiodi to teach about the controversial aspects of Amoris Laetitia.
Sequeri was instead questioned about critics of the renewed institute who oppose John Paul II and Francis.
“Why should the renewal of the institute's studies be understood as a war between two popes?” he responded. “It is simply the continuity of the Magisterium.” Sequeri credited Pope John Paul II with having “in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council “put an end to the somewhat gnostic ambiguity surrounding sexuality in classical doctrine,” as if the Church had taught unclear or unsound doctrine on human sexuality before Vatican II.
“Basically, it was necessary to keep it at a distance,” Sequeri proclaimed. He said it was John Paul II who developed “the Christian idea that the body is created by God and contains a theology in itself.”
There were indeed heretics who taught that the body is bad and that sexuality and human generation are necessarily impure: the Cathars, who developed their gnostic thought around the 11th century, especially in the southwest of France. So dangerous was their false conception of perfection that several crusades were called to fight against them and the order of St. Dominic arose to convert them. They were defeated in 1243.
Not once does Sequeri recall that the basis of Church teaching lies in the fact that marriage and the conjugal act are ordained to procreation, which explains its inner and constant logic, and the teaching against all and any kind of extramarital or sexual activity that is by its own nature non-procreative.
Sequeri then proceeded to make somewhat confusing remarks on what the reformed institute will do:
“But the theme of the relationship between man and woman, of marriage, is not only the theology of sexuality; it is also a morality of love. However, if, half a century ago, the Council could take for granted a consensus on love in the West, this is no longer self-evident. We are talking about love for very different realities and, to face it, our theology is a little weak.
“Church men and women are too ingenuous: they still think that if we do everything correctly regarding sexuality, everything will be fine. But sexuality also has a dramatic dimension. A dimension that cannot be reduced to sin alone, but which is also the effect of the contradictions of life, of errors, of pressures weighing on the family and disintegrating it. Of course, it is not a question of eliminating sin, but all this must be taken into account.”
He did not clearly say that some acts do not remain sinful, but appears to be calling in “errors” and “pressures” that call for a more subtle approach. He also suggested that the Church’s present theology on “fatherhood, motherhood, fraternity” is “very poor” in the new context where these “are no longer self-evident in our society.”
La Croix asked Sequeri about the “concern” recently expressed by Pope Francis “about the risk of schism when ideology enters the doctrine.” “Is there not an ideologization of John Paul II's theology?”
Sequeri agreed, saying John Paul II had himself been “courageous” in traveling “the paths of phenomenology and personalism,” leading “the representatives of classical doctrine” to look at him “with suspicion.”
“To ideologize him would be either to use him to say that the old doctrine no longer has anything to say, or to say that the battle he waged to take phenomenology into account has been lost,” Sequeri said. “For me – I can say this because I am an old theologian – this last temptation amounts to intellectual laziness. When you find a solution that seems interesting and is accepted, it is easy to be tempted to rest on it and defend it as if it were a framework beyond which there would be nothing more to say.”
Sequeri deplores the fact that some consider themselves “betrayed” because they stand with the (former) pope.
“I have noted a minoritarian but worrisome return to a certain Protestant principle where a theologian could stand up and say to the Pope: ‘You are mistaken! You're moving away from the authentic tradition!’”
He added, “Even with the best intentions, to claim to be an authority to judge the Magisterium and the Pope is like setting oneself up as a Magisterium: it is no longer Catholic theology,” thereby suggesting that the Pope cannot err and that Catholics are not allowed to consider present declarations or developments with regard to the certain age-old teachings.
Questioned about the present sexual abuse crisis, Sequeri said:
“The reflection on this subject is only 50 years old; it is being done gradually. In the past, when the priest talked about sexuality, everything was sinful. The Church has never formulated it in this way, but its message was thus popularized. Today, the Christian conscience has become a little more responsible, fortunately. It is not enough to prohibit, it is about learning to govern your sexuality. This requires choices, morality, an ethic of sexuality that must be filled with positive content, not just limits and prohibitions. It is our responsibility to help to make a just language that can speak the Christian truth in an intelligible way.”
So now sexual abusers are just people who never learned to “govern” their sexuality because they had heard from priests that sex is always sinful?
La Croix jumped on the idea and asked, “So we need to get out of the ‘permitted-forbidden’ pattern?”
“It is not a question of leaving it as if we should not have entered it,” Sequeri replied. “The ‘permitted’ and the ‘forbidden’ is the fundamental threshold of the moral attitude. Children learn in this mode. But it is a question of going beyond this level and learning to confront a drama of choice, of liberty, which is more responsible, of making decisions at a deeper level.
“For the Pope, the threshold of the ‘permitted-forbidden’ is a necessary truth, but that is not sufficient for a just practice of conjugal sexuality, of family relationships. What is at stake is a justice, as Jesus says, that is greater than that of the Pharisees who were limited to the ‘permitted-forbidden.’”
What Sequeri fails to recall is that Jesus did not change the laws given to men for their own good, He asked for them to be put into practice in charity and out of love, not to be ignored or adapted.