Founding prof laments ‘destruction’ of John Paul II Institute
Editor’s note: The following is an English translation of the “Public Statement Concerning the Turmoil Surrounding the Pope John Paul II Institute for the Family in Rome,” released on August 28.
Archbishop Vincenco Paglia, Great Chancellor of the Institute
Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, President of the Institute
Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Education
Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Education
August 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Due to the vast coverage in the media (Tagespost, Kath.net, CNA, and many others in foreign countries) and due to the publication of the letter written by representatives of the Institute’s student body with now more than 1,500 signatures from students and alumni, as well as the release of an extensive interview with the vice president [of the Institute], Prof. Granados, and of the interview with Professors Melina, Grygiel, and Prof. Pesci of the State University La Sapienza/ Rome, the facts and the current situation of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Lateran University — as founded by Pope John Paul II in 1981 — are generally known. Therefore, we assume in the following that our readers are informed about them.
Since 1981, when Pope John Paul II called me (Prof. Martin) to be the first sociologist at the Institute, I was for approximately two decades intimately involved, with the help of the Institute’s first president — the later cardinal Prof. Carlo Caffarra — in its establishment and growth. In several meetings with the entire international academic staff, together with Pope John Paul II, there took place intensive consultations about the vision of the pope and his objectives. The pope (and after him, in a similar fashion, Pope Benedict XVI) hoped that, with the help of the founding of this new institution, there would take place a far-reaching renewal of Catholic theology and pastoral care for marriage and the family. We all were and still are convinced that Divine Providence gave the Church and the world, through Pope John Paul, a charismatic new beginning in the field of the Church’s teaching on marriage (anthropological explanation of Humanae Vitae, personalism, expansion of the Sacrament of Matrimony, etc.), which was at the same time a bulwark against the anti-family ideologies that in the meantime had sprung up.
Under the leadership of its president and leading moral theologian, Carlo Caffarra (who in the end was the cardinal of Bologna); his successor, Cardinal Angelo Scola (Milan); and Livio Melina, the Institute developed an enormous impact and expanded in many countries in the world (foundation of different affiliated institutes). From my own experience, I can testify as to how here, in amicable collaboration, an interdisciplinary and international institute was built up, in which in heretofore unknown ways different academic disciplines and its professors and teachers (theology, sociology, anthropology, pedagogy, spirituality, psychology, NFP [Natural Family Planning], political science) taught and researched together in an integrative way in the field of marriage and the family.
This beneficial development now has found an abrupt end due to the arbitrary approach of Grand Chancellor Archbishop Paglia — newly appointed by Pope Francis — and the new president, Monsignor Sequeri. I, together with many colleagues in the whole world, follow with shock, deep dismay, and sadness the decisions that have been implemented in an unprecedented “cloak-and-dagger operation”: the replacement of the old statutes with new ones, the dismissal of all professors, and the new study conditions for the students. This places before us the following questions: Cui bono? What is going on here? What kind of “ruse of the idea” [“List der Idee”] is behind the whole thing? Which motivations, ideological intentions, and expedient strategies of action do the protagonists have? Could it be that the line as given by its founder — that is to say, to orient oneself toward the heretofore teaching of the Church (e.g., the encyclicals and apostolic exhortations Humanae Vitae, Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, etc.) — appears to the leading persons to be partially obsolete and that therefore, one now wishes to bring about, with the help of all kinds of conceivable methods, a “more liberal” change? Such a change would be possible only if one thereby would abolish the original vision of Pope John Paul II.
They say a “refounding [of the Institute] is necessary” because “certain aspects are not anymore up to date.” Which aspects are these, and which ones are now more “up-to-date”? It is very obvious that these questions refer primarily to the field of moral teaching. It is known that here in the Church, there has been going on for a long time a fierce battle between different orientations. Was it that for Prof. Livio Melina and all the other professors who were dismissed, their loyalty toward Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor, as well as their orientation based on the teaching traditions of the popes, from Paul VI to John Paul II, up to Benedict XVI, became their fate? Do the current academic authorities dislike this theological orientation? Why this subtle and enigmatic approach? Why does one not fight openly? It seems to be a question of time until the teaching body that follows the intentions of the founder of the Institute will be replaced by a new one, which then will be in accordance with the new, “more updated” aspects. That this indeed is the case can been seen in the arbitrary restrictions that are already placing pressure on the teachers and others — see, for example, the case of Prof. Grygiel of the Woityla Chair of the Institute, and Prof. Luisa di Pietro, both of whom have now been dismissed. The relativism that destroys here the foundations of the relevant Church teaching becomes clear when now, instead, teachers are being hired who are reflecting upon the moral justification of contraception or who consider that homosexual practices are possible and acceptable in some situations. The actions of man are subsequently not anymore judged according to the principles of a moral teaching grounded in the natural law, according to which there are “intrinsically” bad and evil acts (“intrinsice malum”), which are always and under all circumstances forbidden to man.
In the new approach, the actions of man would, instead, be judged by man himself, assessing them as “good or bad” according to the principles of a new morality, the so-called “autonomous morality” (proportionalism, weighing of competing values), or according to their consequences (consequentialism). This is a teaching diametrically opposed to the teaching of Pope John Paul II as it has been taught up to now at his Institute and which the encyclical Veritatis Splendor has clearly rejected as not being Catholic. In this context, one could also read the lucid analysis of the real reasons for the “abuse crisis,” as it has been recently presented by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It clearly presents the destructive role of this so-called “autonomous morality” and of the revolution of 1968. The moral theologian Schockenhoff (Freiburg) has just criticized and rejected publicly, in a talk in front of the German Bishops’ Conference, Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” and he did so by referring to this autonomous morality as it has been heretofore rejected by the Church.
Is it the case that here the deepest and the true reason for the destruction of the old Roman Institute is being revealed — that is to say, the replacement of a teaching body which altogether supported the grounding of morality in the natural law by a teaching body that accepts the “autonomous morality”?
After the dust slowly settles after the battle, the extent of the damage will become visible: first of all, it is obvious that, in a stunning manner, the procedural rules that stem from the laws of the European university traditions have been violated. In this light, one can understand and fully support the protest rising in the academic realm of the ecclesiastical and state universities against this bold violation and defiance of the academic freedom. After all, no personal or academic misconduct on the part of Professors Melina and Noriega — the two persons who are most affected and who have been dismissed from out of the blue from their secure chairs — or of the others are known. They were dismissed overnight without fair process, without a prior hearing or a legal procedure, and without any involvement of the legitimate boards or panels. The same applies to the other professors who now have been dismissed and who are waiting for their possible rehiring. On what and on whom does their re-hiring depend, after their qualifications had already been checked before their initial hiring? Did they lack in expected diligence? Are there certain aspects of importance that pertain to a certain form of “good conduct” (toward whom?), a certain “suitability” in light of new ecclesial orientations of doctrine or any kind of unpopularities? The arbitrariness and the subjective decisions — which are possibly driven by interests — on the part of those who have the power have free rein. Insecurity is hanging over the heads of these professors like the Sword of Damocles.
If one considers the sum of the innovations, one cannot avoid the impression that behind these red herrings and obvious intrigues, there is indeed a hidden goal: the destruction of the heritage of Pope John Paul II, the setting aside of foundational documents of his pontificate (Familaris Consortio, Fides et Ratio, especially also Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae and other magisterial texts), as well as of his Wednesday catechesis on the “Theology of the Body,” whose teaching and distribution now begin to have a beneficial effect. For this purpose, one is willing to make use of an unprecedented intrusion into the academic freedom and into the self-administrative competence of university bodies. It is not yet even foreseeable what consequences this bang will have in its entirety for the Church's universities in the world and especially for the Roman universities (which are, after all, bound, by juridical contracts among them, to the “Bologna Process” to keep the European university standards). But that the consequences will be grave is already now clear. Like a pyroclastic flow during the outbreak of a volcano, the consequences will spread throughout the landscape of the universities. One cannot avoid having the impression that those who are responsible for this misery have laid a cuckoo’s egg in the nest of Pope Francis!
Considering the general decline of Faith – especially in Europe — it becomes clear what a gift of Providence the pontificate of Pope John Paul II was — with his initiatives of the “Family Synod 1980,” the “Pontifical Council for the Family,” the “John Paul II Institute,” and his different magisterial documents. What “aberrations” and dangers should be corrected, then, if not those who have not sufficiently resisted the zeitgeist that dislikes marriage, family, and the Church’s teaching in these fields?
The methods of the protagonists show two things: a lack of willingness to dialogue, which is always being demanded by their superior, Pope Francis, for all levels of the Vatican, and a strong clericalism as an abuse of power, which the pope has often bemoaned. Here is not shown selfless service for the sake of the cause, but rather cold dominance. The instrumentalization of the Institute, of its professors and students (see their reactions), has caused a smoldering fire with unforeseeable consequences for the reputation of the Church in the field of the universitas. For the enemies of the Church’s teaching, these are flaring bonfires.
Where is the fire department that will put out this fire? How could one picture a solution of this dead-end situation? When weighing all known facts, one gets the impression that a leader who consciously aims at other goals is doing much harm — out of which there can only be one clear conclusion: one has to dismiss him and replace him with a trusted leader who restores again the status quo ante (withdrawal of the authoritarian measures, especially the rehiring of those professors who were dismissed without cause), so that the Institute can continue to further develop its beneficial effects. Pope Francis has the key to it.
One of the most crucial consequences of the developments at the Institute might be the future development of the “Theology of the Body.” This teaching, whose discovery, development, and importance for theology as a whole will go off in the 21st century “like a bomb,” according to George Weigel, gains academic importance in the German-speaking countries only at the Pope Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological University Heiligenkreuz near Vienna. (In addition, there are promising projects in Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, and other countries, and especially also in the U.S., which are getting more and more interconnected.) Obviously, Pope Francis highly esteems this teaching of his predecessor, because in his apostolic document Amoris Laetitia (“On Love in the Family”), he quotes eleven times the Theology of the Body and altogether 24 times from Familiaris Consortio, which is the great Summa of his holy predecessor on the family. Thus it is all the harder to understand this sharp breach in the development of the Institute that now has been accomplished, especially also in light of the fact that Pope Francis, still in September of 2017, in the context of the “refounding” of the Family Institute, attested that his predecessor John Paul II had a “far-sighted intuition” (see the letter from the students). One will have to await what significance the “Theology of the Body” still will have in the future of the Institute of his holy predecessor up to now, it played a central role in the fields of teaching and research. Let us hope that its further worldwide development will not be thwarted by the “tsunami” currently sweeping over the Institute, and that it will be able also in the future to exercise its beneficial influence for the sake of a modern, genuinely Catholic marriage catechesis that has already attracted so many young spouses.
Prof. em. Dr. Norbert Martin, University of Koblenz; from 1981-1993 Sociologist at the John Paul II Institute; Vice President of the MEDO-Institute in Rolduc/Netherlands; Auditor of the Synod of Bishops on the Family 1980; a member of the “Pontifical Council for the Family” from 1981 to 2016; Professor at the Study Program “Theology of the Body” at the Benedict XVI Theological-Philosophical University at Heiligenkreuz near Vienna
Prof. em. Dr. Manfred Spieker, Christian Social Teaching at the University of Osnabrück
Prof. Dr. Katrin Keller, teacher at the University of Koblenz and at the Interdiciplinary Center for Health Sciences at the PTH Vallendar
Renate Martin, Marriage Spirituality, teacher at the Medo-Institute in Rolduc/Netherlands and at the Study Program “Theology of the Body” at the Benedict XVI Theological-Philosophical University at Heiligenkreuz near Vienna; a member of the “Pontifical Council for the Family” from 1981 to 2016; Auditor of the Synod of Bishops on the Family 1980
Academic Director Dr. Helmut Müller (ret.), Social Ethics, Moral Theology, and Philosophy at the University of Koblenz
Prof. Dr. Jean Marie Meyer, Associate Philosopher at the University of Paris
Prof. Dr. Thibaut-Colliste, Associate Philosopher at the University of Paris