The new Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences is to be an academic institution that responds to the “obscuring” of marital and family values while being open to the discoveries of “science” and looking at the “concrete reality of situations, seeking ways of effective pastoral care.”

This was the approach delineated Thursday by the leadership of the Institute at the inauguration of its academic year.

Pope Francis surprised many in September when he re-founded the Pontifical Institute with his apostolic letter, issued motu proprio, Summa familiae cura. Through it, the Pope made it known that he wishes to make the Institute an instrument to carry forward the work of the two recent Synods on the Family and his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

In his speech Thursday, the Institute’s grand chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, stressed that the academic body should be “more and more a center of higher education, retrieving and reviving, amid the trends of today, the original inspirations of St. John Paul II, wisely implemented from the beginning by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra.”

Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the Institute, said the validity of the academic institution, “confirmed by the signs of the times,” will come through its “Catholic shape,” one that is not “closed within narrow limits of a rigid ideology,” but rather by “better placing the intelligence of the faith at the disposal of the universal Church.”

This means “equipping it to confront critics,” he added, but also through “conversations and thoughtful exchanges,” and with “better expressions of the religious traditions and of contemporary culture.”

He said “new epochal trends” give theology the “special task of clarifying and motivating human and Christian truth” in relation to marriage and the family.

But he added that “this new ecclesial sensibility” must also take on the “more generous intelligence of the faith that saves, of the vulnerability and complexity that characterize lived history, and difficult paths — often dramatically real — of its implementation.”

He added that the “faith and life of the Church” must therefore “be able to inhabit” the history of the human family, in its good and bad times, “without abandoning it to its own fate.”

Msgr. Sequeri went on to say that “in many cases, the evasion of responsibility and reticence of political institutions, along with the pressure to conform exerted by today's social and cultural dynamics, greatly aggravate the effects of vulnerability on the family condition.

“The Church,” Msgr. Sequeri continued, “cannot escape the task of sharing this condition. And far from keeping a distance, she must tend to it — and indeed generously live it — with all her love, with all mercy, and with all the energy she has, by the Spirit of God.”

Msgr. Sequeri, who was one of the principal organizers of a controversial meeting at the Pontifical Gregorian University in May 2015 that proposed a new "theology of love," also argued for a theology “that draws inspiration from the commitment to sustain the pastoral care of ecclesial faith with an intellect of love.” Such a theology, he said, will be “better” equipped to formulate “languages suitable for concrete and proactive cultural mediation of Christian wisdom that illuminates life.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Msgr. Sequeri said the Pope’s apostolic letter has given the Institute a “new institutional framework,” and he expressed his hope that the Institute’s “family atmosphere” would continue “without any prejudicing of the seriousness” of its duties.

He also underlined the Institute’s close links with the Pope who, he said, “personally guarantees” its competencies to be “in the service of all the Church.”

In a Nov. 15 interview with the Italian bishops’ news agency, SIR, Msgr. Sequeri addressed the issue of Amoris Laetitia, saying the two Synods on the Family called on all the faithful and people of good will to be “mindful of the global difficulties with regard to orienting people’s feelings and sentiments towards the fulfilment, in family and conjugal life, of the fruitful, intimate love of man and woman.”

Amoris Laetitia, he said, has an “authority and incisiveness” that highlights the “contents and the style marking the Church’s ministry and witness.”

He added that Pope Francis “personally entrusts” the re-founded Institute with the task of “shaping” it “in ways that best respond to the needs of the pastoral plan that the post-Synodal Church, in her commitment, is authoritatively developing.”

In his Thursday speech, Msgr. Sequeri paid tribute to Cardinal Caffarra, who died Sept. 6, saying “we always remember him with affection,” and adding that “he, I am sure, will support our new mission.” His tribute was interrupted by lengthy and rapturous applause.

Sources say it won't be clear exactly how much the re-founded Institute will be different from its predecessor, founded by Cardinal Caffarra, until new statutes are implemented in the coming months.