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ROME, August 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In one of his final interviews before his death in 2017, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the founding president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, recalled a letter he received from Fatima visionary, Sister Lucia dos Santos, when he was facing trials in establishing the Institute.

In that letter, Sister Lucia wrote: “Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”

In the May 2017 interview, the 79-year-old Italian cardinal said that her letter “remained engraved on my heart, and amid all of the difficulties we have encountered — and there have been so, so many — these words have always given me a great strength.”

Cardinal Caffarra added: “What Sr. Lucia wrote to me is being fulfilled today.”

The Institute founded by Pope John Paul II is now arguably undergoing its greatest trial. With the approval of new statutes on July 18, 2019 (a month in Rome generally dedicated more to rest than to work), a letter was sent by Grand Chancellor, Vincenzo Paglia, to all JPII professors suspending them. Key tenured professors, including Monsignor Livio Melina, who succeeded Cardinal Caffarra as president of the Institute for a decade and held the Chair of Fundamental Moral Theology, was dismissed, along with Fr. José Noriega, who held the Chair of Specific Moral Theology. Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel, a beloved professor and personal friend of Pope John Paul II, retained the Karol Wotyła Chair (a research and not teaching position) but received a letter telling him he would not be teaching at the Institute in the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Significant changes were also made to the curriculum, in what informed observers see as a “purge” of Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the moral life, marriage and family. Msgr. Melina’s dismissal was in fact justified on the grounds that Fundamental Moral Theology would no longer be taught at the Institute, and therefore there was no place for him in the new institute. Five Masters Programs, which had formed young students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, psychologists, nurses and catechists for years, in fields ranging from bioethics to family counselling, were also suspended in order that their nature might be changed in accord with the new Institute.  

The mid-summer “purge” of the John Paul II Institute has provoked considerable controversy and outrage. Several professors, including Msgr. Melina, have spoken out openly in the media. Over 250 students and almost 500 alumni (supported by more than 900 sympathizers) sent a letter to Institute President, Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri, and to the Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, expressing deep concern. 

More recently, 49 scholars from around the world called on the President and Grand Chancellor to reinstate the professors. The international group of scholars were all authors of the Dizionario su sesso, amore e fecondità [Dictionary on sex, love and fecundity], edited by Professor Noriega and Professors René and Isabelle Ecochard, and published to mark the 50th anniversary of Humanae vitae

In a rare move after his resignation, Benedict XVI, who has a longstanding and close relationship with the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, also showed his support for the dismissed professors, meeting privately with Msgr. Melina on Aug. 1. Four days later, an official photograph was released to the media (something that would have been done with his permission) with this message:

[Benedict XVI] wanted to receive Prof. Msgr. Livio Melina in private audience. After a long discussion of the recent events at the Pontifical Institute John Paul II, he granted his blessing, expressing his personal solidarity and assuring him of his closeness in prayer.

On Aug. 2, amid growing criticism, the personal secretary to Archbishop Paglia informed the media that authorities at the institute are not ready to answer questions and will be taking the month of August to prepare a response.

To help readers understand the “purge” of the John Paul II Institute, here below we publish a timeline of events (from the perspective of John Paul II professors) beginning with Pope Francis’s promulgation of the Motu Proprio, Summa familiae cura, which juridically suppressed the “John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family,” and replaced it with the “Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.” The timeline is limited to events at the John Paul Institute in Rome. 

What the timeline reveals is that the John Paul II Institute professors were led to believe they would have an integral role in formulating the new statutes, only to have almost the same statutes (which they had previously rejected in June 2018) foisted on them at the last moment in mid-July 2019. To informed sources in Rome, this was the “gravest deception” — or at least a “falsehood” — perpetrated by the new authorities of the Institute to push forward their agenda.

The timeline also reveals that there was no real “expansion” of the Institute. Its five Master programs have been suspended and the Chair in Fundamental Moral Theology. The Chair in Specific Moral Theology remained under another name, but there was a reduction in teaching hours for this chair. The brief Course on the Permanent Formation of Priests was also suspended. A laboratory of psychology for priests, which was to be launched in No. 2019, suffered a similar fate.

It ought also to be noted that the curriculum at the original Pontifical John Paul II Institute was already interdisciplinary and included the human sciences. In the apostolic constitution Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum (1982), Pope John Paul II specifically stated that the Institute was being given juridical form, “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” (n. 3)

Finally, the timeline reveals an unprecedented and direct attack (especially through the removal of tenured professors) on a Catholic academic institution. 


August 15, 2016: 

Pope Francis appoints Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as Grand Chancellor of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri is subsequently appointed president.

September 8, 2017: 

Pope Francis issues the Motu Proprio Summa familiae cura, causing the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family* to cease to exist, and replacing it with the “Pontifical Theological Institute for Sciences on Marriage and the Family.” The Motu Proprio states that the old statutes remain valid until new statutes are established. 

The document is issued just days after the death of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra. Arguably the Church’s leading expert on marriage and the family for decades, Pope John Paul II gave Cardinal Caffarra the mandate to found the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 1981. 

*The Institute’s establishment was to be announced at the Holy Father’s Wednesday audience on May 13, 1981. Because of the attempted assassination on Pope John Paul II, the Institute’s Apostolic Constitution, Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum, was instead given on October 7, 1982, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. On that occasion the Institute was entrusted in a special way to the care of the most Blessed Virgin Mary under her title Our Lady of Fatima.

September 18, 2017

At an Institute Council meeting in Rome, Archbishop Paglia and President Sequeri assure professors that the new statutes will be developed together with the Central Council. 

June 6, 2018: 

During the meeting of the Central Session in Rome of the Institute (made up of tenured professors, some representatives of non-tenured professors, the president and general secretary), President Pierangelo Sequeri, acting on the order of Archbishop Paglia, presents new statutes for discussion which no member of the Central Session had ever seen before. One of the immediate implications of these statutes was that all professors would immediately be suspended. The statutes also presented a clear decrease in the collegial work of the professors.

All of the professors respectfully but forcefully protested immediately, stating that such statutes were unacceptable and requesting that the Central Council work together on a proposal of new statutes that would be in continuity (organic development) with the old ones established by Pope John Paul II in founding the Institute in 1982.

February 20, 2019: 

President Pierangelo Sequeri requests that all John Paul II Institute professors send to him course proposals for the next academic year (2019-2020), in order to set the Order of Studies (Ordo) for the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Late March 2019:

New statutes that a committee had been working on in collaboration with President Sequeri since 2018 (10 months) were submitted to Archbishop Paglia, who had been informed each step of the way. President Sequeri told professors several times their proposed statutes would be taken into consideration.

April 10, 2019:

Msgr. Sequeri states at the Central Council meeting in Rome that the draft of the statutes prepared by the commission would be sent to the international sections so that they may, in turn, send back any corrections or suggestions to the Roman section before the International Institute Council (an international council with the rest of the sessions which takes place at the end of June) approved the final draft to be submitted to the Vatican Congregation for Education.

There was no such approval from the International Institute Council. It is possible that President Sequeri, acting under orders from his superiors, thought this was to be the case. 

May 15, 2019: 

Msgr. Sequeri states at another Central Council meeting in Rome that the International Institute Council would be the first interlocutor for the consultation of the new statutes. No such consultation occurred.

May 20, 2019: 

Professors in Rome received a letter with course assignments for the 2019-2020 academic year, approved by Msgr. Sequeri and Archbishop Paglia, for all Programs offered at the Institute. The Programs included: Master of Studies on Marriage and the Family, Master in Bioethics, Master in Sexuality and Fertility (Italian and French), Master in Family-counseling, Master in Family Pastoral work, the brief Course on the Permanent Formation of Priests, and the Licentiate and Doctorate.

May 27, 2019: 

The course listing brochure for all programs offered at the Institute (with names of the professors assigned to teach each course) is published. The brochure specifies that course registration for the 2019-2020 academic year would begin in June 2019. The brochure included the Laboratory of psychology for priests, which was to be launched in Nov. 2019 (see brochure online here).

John Paul II Institute brochure for the 2019-2020 academic year (published in May 2019). The brochure shows that professors and students were given to understand that all Programs, including the 5 Master Programs, would still be offered at the Institute during the 2019-2020 academic year.

June 1, 2019: 

Registration for courses for the 2019-2020 academic year opens (see Order of Studies (Ordo), pg. 187, available online).

Also in early June 2019, the course descriptions for the Master and License Programs (which can be viewed respectively here and here) were made available online. They show the specific courses that Msgr. Melina, Prof. Grygiel and other JPII professors were set to teach during the 2019-2020 academic year.

July 18, 2019:

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, publishes an article announcing that the new statutes for the John Paul II Institute have been approved by the Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and by the Congregation for Education. Professors at the John Paul II Institute had not been informed of the approval of the new statutes and came to know about it through the media. The text of the statutes was not provided to the L’Osservatore Romano

July 22, 2019:

All professors of the John Paul II Institute received a letter suspending them from teaching at the Institute. They also received (for the first time) a copy of the new statutes, only to see that the “new” statutes integrated many of the points that Msgr. Sequeri presented (at Archbishop Paglia’s instructions) in June 2018 but which the professors rejected. For twelve months, the professors had been led to believe that they would contribute to the formulation of the new statutes but, in fact, they were not. 

President Sequeri publicly continues to claim that the new statutes are “in continuity” with those established under Pope John Paul II in 1982. Msgr. Sequeri also publicly states

“The approval of the Statutes and Order of Studies is the result of a three-year process and dialogue initiated at the Institute’s headquarters, with the 12 Suburban Offices and Associated Centers and with the Congregation for Catholic Education.”

 The professors forcefully disagree. 

  • The new Order of Studies suspends all five Masters programs, together with the Course on the Permanent Formation of Priests.
  • The only programs that remain from the original Order of Studies (which were approved by Grand Chancellor Paglia and President Sequeri at the end of May 2019 – see above) are the Licentiate and Doctorate. 

July 23, 2019: 

Monsignor Livio Melina and Professor José Noriega receive a letter of dismissal from teaching at the new Institute, on the following basis: 

  • Msgr. Melina is told that the Chair of Fundamental Moral Theology established at the wish of Pope John Paul II and first held by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, has been eliminated.
  • Prof. Noriega is told that his position as General Superior of his religious congregation is incompatible with the position of a tenured professor at the new Institute. 

Neither Msgr. Melina nor Prof. Noriega received any prior communication regarding these reasons and were thus given no prior possibility to defend themselves or challenge the Grand Chancellor’s decision.

July 24 onward:

Seven additional professors (Stanislaw Grygiel, M.S. Di Pietro, M. Grygiel, V. Marini, J. Kupczak, S. Belardinelli, and P. Kwiatkowski) receive a letter of dismissal from their teaching positions. Some are told that their courses were eliminated on the economic grounds. Some are also told that the Institute hopes to offer a cycle of courses in the future but the same professors are not told that they retain their positions at the new Institute.


We end once again with the words of Sr. Lucia that remained engraved on Cardinal Caffarra’s heart until his death on Sept. 6, 2017: 

“Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”