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John Paul II Institute’s identity ‘seriously threatened’: Vice-president

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ROME, Italy, August 1, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The vice-president of the beleaguered John Paul II Pontifical Institute has spoken candidly to media about the threat posed by new changes to the college which was re-purposed by Pope Francis in 2017. 

Fr. José Granados, DCJM (Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary) spoke to Catholic News Agency (CNA) yesterday about what critics are calling the “destruction” of the institute. 

“It seems to me that the identity of the Institute is seriously threatened, so it is necessary to present, with respect but clearly, the objective problems within the recent changes, and warn of the danger to the original mission of the Institute, which Pope Francis has clearly said he wants to preserve, not just as a piece of the past, but precisely because it is a source of renewal and a pathway for the Church’s accompaniment to families,” Granados told CNA.

The most recent changes include the temporary suspension of the entire faculty and staff, the dismissal of key faculty members, and the abolition of its chair of fundamental moral theology. 

Uncertain of the future of the academic year they have already signed up for, students collaborated on a letter of protest they sent to the Institute’s president, Pierangelo Sequeri, and its Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. 

The original Institute was the brainchild of St. John Paul II, who founded the school in 1981 as the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The Institute was mandated by the Polish pontiff’s Familiaris Consortio, and an interdisciplinary cohort of Catholic professors and students collaborated on effectively presenting John Paul II’s extensive theology of sexuality, marriage, and the family to a jaded world. 

In 2016, Pope Francis replaced the Pontifical Institute’s president, Monsignor Livio Melina, with Sequeri, who―despite a career in academic theology―is best known in Italy as a composer of liturgical hymns.  

Then, in 2017, Pope Francis ordered radical changes to the Institute with his motu proprio Summa familiae cura,” effectively abolishing it and establishing the “John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences” in its place. The short apostolic letter contained two references to Amoris laetitia, but also the current pontiff’s assurances that he wished “the farsighted intuition of Saint John Paul II ... [to]  be better recognised and appreciated it its fruitfulness and timeliness.” 

Granados told CNA that since this mandate, the Institute has been trying to implement changes while still being faithful to John Paul II’s vision:

“...We have been working for a renewal in continuity, as indicated by our Holy Father Francis. The desire of the pope has been to support the Institute, expand it, promote it, as Monsignor Sequeri told us at the beginning,” he said. 

However, the new statutes ordered for the Institute, which many faculty members did not see until they were approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education, came as a surprise to the Vice-President.  

These new rules “decrease the presence of professors in the Institute’s leadership council: stable teachers now have only two representatives, while before all participated, from their different chairs,” Granados told CNA. 

“This applies to the entire academic life of the Institute: it decreases the collegial contribution of the stable professors to pass doctoral theses or [assist in developing] the curriculum.”

In addition, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the non-academic who is now the Grand Chancellor, has the ultimate authority over which new professors are hired; this is no longer the purview of the faculty itself.   

“The loss of collegiality is astonishing, because in an interdisciplinary institute, which is characterized by studying the same object - marriage and family - from the points of view of each discipline, the contribution of all teachers in their different chairs is needed, be it to examine the curriculum, be it to approve doctoral theses, be it for the election of the new members of the faculty,” Granados said. 

“And this should be recognized as a right in the statutes, because it is a vital point of the institution.”

Meanwhile, the first new faculty member to join the Institute will be the Humanae vitae dissenter Maurizio Chiodi, sources told LifeSiteNews.

“Rumors now circulate that Professor Maurizio Chiodi will come to teach, who opens himself up to the lawfulness of contraception and accepts homosexual acts as ‘possible’ in some situations,” Granados told CNA.

“If new stable professors are promoted along the same lines, without following normal procedures, claiming an ‘urgency’ for which no reason is given, a great tension would be created within the Institute.”  

Granados also voiced his dismay that courses in moral theology have been halved, and that three professors of moral theology have been dismissed. He said that the loss of faculty members of great importance to the history of the Institute has left him and his colleagues “dumbfounded.”  

“... Especially worrisome is the suppression of the chair of fundamental moral theology, which was held by Msgr. Melina,” he told CNA.  

“It has been an active chair for 38 years, from which taught Cardinal Caffarra. We could say that it is essential for the work of the Institute, if we consider that Wojtyla was a moral theologian and entrusted the chair to the first president of the Institute,” he continued.

“It is a decisive chair. If the fundamentals of morality are unknown, if these are not well placed, marriage morality remains in the air.”

Granados took issue with a press release from the Institute, which explained that the chair was being done away with because fundamental moral theology is studied as part of the program preliminary to graduate studies. He believes that this is a “smokescreen” because two of the remaining chairs belong to subjects taught in the preliminary program. 

“The true and sad reason? Is it not that Melina...has remained faithful to Humanae vitae and Veritatis splendor, and the chair is eliminated in order to eliminate Melina?” he suggested.

Granados was equally dismissive of the reason given for the ouster of his religious superior, Fr. José Noriega, DCJM. The July 29 press release argued that Noriega’s role as the leader of a religious order was “incompatible” with his role as a professor of moral theology and was therefore in violation of canon law.  

The rule “prohibits only the assumption of two incompatible charges,” Granados told CNA.

“Are they incompatible in this case, when Fr. Noriega’s religious community has only 24 full members? The answer requires a prudential consideration. And the two people who were responsible for doing so, that is, the two previous presidents of the Institute, Melina and Sequeri, did not judge the two responsibilities incompatible, since they allowed Noriega to teach for 12 years, with his status as superior being public and well-known.”  

Moreover, Noriega’s term as superior ends in five months, as both Sequeri and Paglia are aware. Here, too, the problem may be loyalty to John Paul II’s theology. 

Granados suggested that if the “incompatibility” is not overcome by simply giving the professor a leave of absence, it is just an excuse to dismiss “the chair of love and marriage, and get rid of the person in charge of the Institute's publications.” 

“Is it perhaps Noriega’s favorability to Humanae vitae and Veritatis splendor?” he asked.

The Vice-President described the dismissals as “an abuse” and said it threatened the academic freedom of all the teachers.

“...If this abuse is allowed, the academic freedom of all teachers is threatened,” he told CNA.

“We are all facing the same problem: we could be expelled, not because we deny the doctrine of faith, which would be fair, but for following theological lines that university authorities dislike,” he continued. 

“From this point of view all of us who have a university chair can say: ‘I am Melina and Noriega.’” 

He decried the new powers given to Archbishop Paglia, a man whom George Weigel recently accused of “knee-capping scholars of impeccable scholarly credentials and personal probity, deeply beloved by their students.”

“With the powers that the Grand Chancellor now has, and the intentions that he reveals when dispensing with Melina and Noriega, it will be a matter of time to replace the teaching staff with another alien to the vision of St. John Paul II,” Granados stated. 

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