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Monsignor Pierangelo SequeriYouTube

VATICAN CITY, September 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― The president of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, appointed to the post by Pope Francis in 2016, suggested that the institute had not been an “institution of excellence” under Popes Benedict or John Paul II. 

Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri told Vatican News that he hoped the latest sweeping changes to the Institute, including a new program of study, would be the beginning of the foundation’s “excellence.”

“My hope is that with this step, although difficult, the Institute may start to become an institution of excellence of the Holy See,” he said. 

However, the foundation was considered an “institute of excellence” even before Sequeri was appointed its new president in 2016. Since then, the Institute, which was founded in 1982 by St. John Paul II, has been refounded, renamed, and purged of many of its orthodox faculty members. It has been given new statues, which were not approved by its faculty members, and seen the cancellation of the original course offerings for the 2019-2020 academic year. 

The Institute has also been presented with a new lecturer, Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, who by approving of the use of artificial contraception dissents from Humanae Vitae and therefore the theology of St. John Paul II. 

The radical changes made to the Institute were met with strong, if futile, resistance by its teachers and students, who feared a betrayal of St. John Paul II’s wishes for the foundation, and by academics around the world, who were dismayed that tenured faculty members were dismissed without due cause. 

“While it is unclear whether the vision of the providential function of Vatican II as 'reform in continuity' promoted by the JPII institute as was originally conceived could have survived present upheavals, it is clear that it represented a very important school of thought in post-conciliar Catholicism which has now lost its spiritual home,” Dr. Alan Fimister told LifeSiteNews via social media. 

Fimister is an assistant professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. 

Sequeri, however, believes that the Institute, having published its new program of study, is returning to “normalcy” and that the new program will make a “decisive contribution.” 

“When one sees the concrete contents and horizons of the courses, one understands what the significance of this transition is, which, without a doubt, like all transitions, has elements of effort, of toil, of novelties to be confronted,” he told Vatican News.  

Sequeri said the program showed that “the tradition of the Institute and innovation … harmonize, they meld together.” He added that “for the first time in its history, the Institute has the certainty of the canonical recognition of its own licences and doctorates, as well as of all other theology faculties, under the same conditions of all other theology faculties, and therefore it can also train and enable the migration —with peace of mind and with greater expertise — of new teachers, not only subject-matter experts.” 

As the Institute has always had the right to confer doctorates and licenses in the theology of marriage and the family, the significance of Sequeri’s remark is unclear. 

A source connected to the Institute told LifeSiteNews that “it is a blunt lie that the degrees were not canonically valid before these new statements. The degrees have always been approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education. (It has been so) since the beginning of the Institute, otherwise the Institute would not function as a Pontifical institute.”

Courses dedicated to challenges to the Catholic understanding of marriage are among the “novelties” to be introduced alongside Institute’s traditional courses. 

“(The) novelties are represented by several courses that focus on the relationship between marriage and civil community, marriage and religious plurality, marriage and comparative law and family in the context of the economic, political, social dimension, which at this moment has this reality, which is certainly — with respect to the tradition of our parents and grandparents — transformed and implicated in a totally new way, and thus this attention is part of the expertise also requested of the theologian,” Sequeri said. 

“Therefore, there is no replacement of theology with sociology but, rather, a theological oversight that is concerned with integrating the competencies that up to this point, in the field of theology, have only been introductory or perhaps even a bit marginal,” he continued. 

The president of the Institute said the fears of its teachers and students arose from not having a copy of the new program. 

“It was fundamentally a conjectural concern because, without having a study plan available, the imagination takes leaps; it is fearful,” Sequeri said. 

“The clarification of reality has to assuage fears; it needs to show that these conjectures were unfounded, that the tradition of the Institute is respected, that the innovation is nothing devastating, but rather, is an added value. … This should eliminate the fanciful fears.”

However, the fears of LifeSiteNews’ Institute source were not alleviated. 

“… untrue things keep being said because they have no arguments to justify the real reason for the change(s): the replacement of morality (faithul to the teaching of the Church) with another one (contrary to the teaching of the Church, pro-contraception and pro-homosexuality),” the source said.

The John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute was founded by St. John Paul II in 1982 as the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Begun within the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, it inspired the creation of affiliated institutes around the world, including in the United States and Australia. 

The John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia, closed in 2018. 

The sainted pontiff published his vision for the original Institute in the Apostolic Constitution Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum. In this document, John Paul II said it was a major responsibility of the Church “to state to everyone the plan of God for marriage and the family.” The Church had already set up institutes for the pastoral care of marriage and the family, but the Polish pontiff believed it was time for a theological foundation: 

“Now it has become necessary to found a primary Institute of studies whose special concern it will be to promote the basic theological and pastoral study of marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church,” St. John Paul II wrote. 

“Therefore, after mature deliberation, we determine and decree that the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, which has already been set up at the Pontifical Lateran University, should now be given juridical form,” he continued.  

“This is done so that the truth of marriage and the family may be given ever closer attention and study, and so that lay people, religious and priests can receive scholarly formation in the study of marriage and the family both in a philosophical-theological way and from the point of view of the human sciences. In such a way their pastoral and ecclesial ministry for the good of the People of God will be more carefully and effectively carried out.”

John Paul II, who among his many accomplishments had taught philosophy at two esteemed Polish universities, established that the Institute would have the right to confer a doctorate in  Sacred Theology with a specialization in the Theology of Marriage and the family, a licentiate in theology of Marriage and the Family, and a diploma in the study of Marriage and the Family.