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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia

VATICAN CITY, August 18, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — A Vatican prelate known for his support of loosening the Church’s approach toward Holy Communion for those living unrepentantly in objectively sinful situations has been appointed to head the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, 71, is the current president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, but will now become president of Pontifical Academy for Life. The Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for the Laity will shut down in September; the work previously under their auspices will fall under a new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, headed by Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell.  

Pope Francis also appointed Paglia grand chancellor of the Pontifical Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The institute is known for defending the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage in line with its namesake’s prolific writings on the topic. However, many of its scholars were excluded from the two synods on marriage and family despite their theological expertise.  

Milanese theologian Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri, 71, will be the Institute’s new president, replacing current president Monsignor Livio Melina, 64.

In a letter to Paglia on Wednesday, Pope Francis laid out how he hopes Paglia will reshape the institutions he is now tasked with leading.

“In theological study, a pastoral perspective and attention to the wounds of humanity should never be missing,” Pope Francis wrote. He called for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and the Pontifical Academy for Life to undergo “a renewal and further development” in order for them to focus “ever more clearly on the horizon of mercy.”

“As President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, I urge you to deal with the new challenges concerning the value of life,” the pope tells Paglia. “I refer to the various aspects concerning the care of the dignity of the human person in the various ages of existence, mutual respect between genders and generations, the defense of the dignity of every single human being, the promotion of quality of human life that integrates the material and spiritual values, in view of an authentic ‘human ecology’, which helps to restore the original balance of creation between the human person and the whole universe.”

Paglia has mixed history, will run historically orthodox institutions

Paglia has spoken out in defense of the Church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality, calling the defense of family something that transcends the left-right political divide and lamenting that “for the first time in history” the union of marriage, family, and life “is being torn apart.”

“We are going towards a ‘de-familied’ society and therefore [a] weaker and less solid” one, he said in 2014.  

However, as head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Paglia oversaw the publication of a book embracing the “Kasper proposal” to admit to Holy Communion those living in what the Church considers an active state of adultery. In 2015, he seemingly praised the pro-homosexual television show Modern Family as sparking a dialogue about “the family” and invited same-sex couples to the World Meeting of Families.

Most recently, the Pontifical Council for the Family under his leadership has come under criticism for promulgating a sex-ed program for youth that includes explicit sexual imagery, leaves aside the Church’s teaching on sin, and envisions being taught outside the bosom of the family. Critics warn that the program violates norms previously promulgated by the very same pontifical council.

During his time as President of the Institute, Melina defended the Church’s perennial teaching that remarried divorcees who are not living as “brother and sister” are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. He also wrote that the controversial exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which Pope Francis published after the two synods on the family, “does not change the Church’s discipline,” which is “based on doctrinal grounds.”

“It must be said with clarity: also after Amoris Laetitia it continues to be the case that admitting to communion the divorced and ‘remarried,’ (apart from the situations foreseen by Familiaris Consortio 84 and Sacramentum Caritatis 29) goes against the Church’s discipline,” Melina wrote. “To teach that it is possible to admit the divorced and ‘remarried’ to communion (apart from these criteria), goes against the Church’s Magisterium.”

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who helped Pope St. John Paul II write his exhortation Familiaris Consortio, also helped found the Institute. Familiaris Consortio definitively answered the question of whether the divorced and “remarried” may be admitted to Holy Communion. Pope St. John Paul II wrote:

… the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Earlier this year, Caffarra told the Catholic faithful not to listen to priests, bishops, or cardinals if they espouse opinions about marriage that are out of line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Caffarra also said that if he had the opportunity to speak with Pope Francis about the ambiguity of Amoris Laetitia, he would ask for clarification on whether the Church’s traditional teaching that certain actions are always gravely sinful is “still believed to be true.”