VATICAN CITY — The vice-president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome said that changes to the school’s governing structure and academic program are a serious threat to its identity, and to the important pastoral ministry it supports.
“It seems to me that the identity of the Institute is seriously threatened, so it is necessary to present, with respect but clearly, the objective problems within the recent changes, and warn of the danger to the original mission of the Institute, which Pope Francis has clearly said he wants to preserve, not just as a piece of the past, but precisely because it is a source of renewal and a pathway for the Church’s accompaniment to families,” Father Jose Granados told CNA July 31.
The priest, who was named in 2013 a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in 2018 a consultor to the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, spoke to CNA about a recently published letter signed by more than 250 students and alumni of the Institute.
The students expressed concern about the Institute’s new statutes, or governing documents, about the dismissal of some faculty members, and about the future of their own studies at the Institute.
New statutes were called for by Pope Francis in 2017, when the pope announced he would broaden the Institute’s focus: while previously it had focused on the theology of marriage and the family, the graduate school's curriculum would be changed to incorporate social sciences and other approaches to studying the family. After a lengthy drafting process, the new statutes were approved and publicly released earlier this month.
Granados said that since the pope announced the changes to the institute in 2017, “we have been working for a renewal in continuity, as indicated by our Holy Father Francis. The desire of the pope has been to support the Institute, expand it, promote it, as Monsignor Sequeri [the Institute’s president] told us at the beginning.”
The priest said that he and other faculty members were surprised by the final draft of the statutes, which many did not see until after it was approved by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education.
Granados told CNA that the new statutes make several major changes:
The new statutes, he said, “decrease the presence of professors in the Institute’s leadership council: stable teachers now have only two representatives, while before all participated, from their different chairs. This applies to the entire academic life of the Institute: it decreases the collegial contribution of the stable professors to pass doctoral theses or [assist in developing] the curriculum.”
In addition, he said, "the appointment of new professors, decisive for an academic community, is now under the direct influence of the Grand Chancellor. If the procedure is carefully examined, it will be almost impossible for the faculty to oppose a candidate promoted by the Grand Chancellor,” he added.
“The loss of collegiality is astonishing, because in an interdisciplinary institute, which is characterized by studying the same object - marriage and family - from the points of view of each discipline, the contribution of all teachers in their different chairs is needed, be it to examine the curriculum, be it to approve doctoral theses, be it for the election of the new members of the faculty. And this should be recognized as a right in the statutes, because it is a vital point of the institution.”
“In addition, in the new statutes there is a decisive change: the drastic reduction of moral theology,” Granados added.
“In the official statement of the Institute issued on July 29, it is said that moral theology finds a new placement and it is pointed out that there are two chairs of morality, the morality of love and marriage, on the one hand, and the ethics of life, for another. What is not said is that, according to the old statutes, there were already two chairs that covered these subjects (a chair of special morals, for sexuality and marriage, and one of bioethics). Nor is it said that in the new curriculum the marriage morality... now have only 3 credits, half that of most other chairs.”
“Morality, therefore, has been reduced by half and not only that: they have thrown out to the teachers who taught it: Melina, Noriega and, for bioethics, Maria Luisa di Pietro.”
The recent dismissal of faculty members “of great importance in the history of the Institute...has left us dumbfounded,” Granados added.
Msgr. Livio Melina, who was notified this month that his position at the Institute has been eliminated, served as the Institute’s long-time president.
On Melina's dismissal, Granados said that “especially worrisome is the suppression of the chair of fundamental moral theology, which was held by Msgr. Melina. It has been an active chair for 38 years, from which taught Carding Caffarra. We could say that it is essential for the work of the Institute, if we consider that Wojtyla was a moral theologian and entrusted the chair to the first president of the Institute.”
“It is a decisive chair. If the fundamentals of morality are unknown, if these are not well placed, marriage morality remains in the air.”
“The way that you understand [the 1993 encyclical] Veritatis splendor will shape the way you view particular moral issues, such as the morality of contraception or sexual acts outside of marriage,” Granados said.
“This also shapes the way you approach the greatness of the vocation to which God calls man and also the dignity of the mercy with which God regenerates man in Christ, so that he can do good, and live a great and beautiful life.”
The priest noted that Cardinal Ratzinger praised the Institute’s role in the development of fundamental moral theology, and that, unlike the newly approved statutes, a 2011 version of the Institute’s statutes said that fundamental moral theology should be among the primary aims of the school.
On July 29, a press release from the Institute said that the chair of fundamental moral theology was being eliminated because the subject is studied in the “first cycle,” - the program of theological studies required for admission to graduate studies in pontifical faculties.
Granados called this explanation “inconsistent.”
“Among the chairs there are at least two other subjects (theological anthropology, fundamental theology) that are offered in the first cycle, and they do not seem to create problems. In addition, it is known that a chair of a general nature, when given at an upper level, is not limited to repeating what has been learned in the first cycle. It is about deepening different aspects, as you can see from the courses offered by Melina in recent years. Melina has deepened concrete aspects of fundamental moral theology to illuminate from the morality of marriage, sexuality, and the family.”
Granados noted that concern about offering fundamental moral theology had not previously been raised in the 38 years the subject has been taught at the John Paul II Institute.
“The reason given can only be explained, then, as a smokescreen. The true and sad reason? Is it not that Melina...has remained faithful to Humanae vitae and Veritatis splendor, and the chair is eliminated in order to eliminate Melina?”
Granados also discussed the dismissal of Father Jose Noriega, the Institute’s chair of specialized moral theology.
On July 29, the Institute said that Noriega was being dismissed because his position as superior of his small religious community is “incompatible” with his duties as a professor, and therefore prohibited by canon law.
Canon law “prohibits only the assumption of two incompatible charges...Are they incompatible in this case, when Father Noriega’s religious community has only 24 full members? The answer requires a prudential consideration. And the two people who were responsible for doing so, that is, the two previous presidents of the Institute, Melina and Sequeri, did not judge the two responsibilities incompatible, since they allowed Noriega to teach for 12 years, with his status as superior being public and well-known,” Granados told CNA.
“Finally, Father Noriega ends his position as superior general within five months, something [the Institute’s Grand Chancellor] Archbishop Paglia and Msgr. Sequeri already know.”
“If the problem is incompatibility, and his work is appreciated, why do they not now grant something provided in the regulations of the curia, a six month leave, and thus eliminate the problem? If this is not done, what other explanation remains, but that it is an excuse to be able to dismiss the chair of love and marriage, and get rid of the person in charge of the Institute's publications. Is it perhaps Noriega’s favorability to Humanae vitae and Veritatis splendor?”
“The two cases are very serious in an academic institution. Were there doctrinal problems in the teaching of these teachers? As students can testify, and an analysis of their writings would show, they have always been excellent in their respect for the Magisterium, including, of course, that of Pope Francis.”
“Explaining the teaching of the pope in continuity with the previous popes is not only something essential to every Catholic hermeneutic, but something promoted by the pope himself. And in any case, if one thought, in spite of everything, that there were doctrinal problems in their teachings, why are they not judged and given the possibility of defending themselves?” Granados asked.
“Well, if this abuse is allowed, the academic freedom of all teachers is threatened. We are all facing the same problem: we could be expelled, not because we deny the doctrine of faith, which would be fair, but for following theological lines that university authorities dislike. From this point of view all of us who have a university chair can say: ‘I am Melina and Noriega.’”
“We should all be alarmed by this arbitrary exercise of power over the nature of university work: the argumentative discussion in a common search for truth. And what will be thought of this way of proceeding in the European academic community?” the priest asked.
Granados expressed concern that several Polish members of the faculty will see their course offerings limited, a decision which, he said, will weaken the university’s connection to the Polish Pope St. John Paul II. He also lamented the dismissal of Professor Maria Luisa di Pietro, whose bioethical approach, he said, resembled closely the approach of John Paul II. Granados also noted that fewer courses will be offered in the anthropology of love, a subject important to the late pope, and mentioned that Stanislaw Grygiel, a personal friend of John Paul II who holds the university’s Wojtyla chair, has been told that he will not regularly offer classes at the Institute.
The priest added that there is concern among students and faculty about what professors will soon be appointed to the faculty.
“Rumors now circulate that Professor Maurizio Chiodi will come to teach, who opens himself up to the lawfulness of contraception and accepts homosexual acts as ‘possible’ in some situations. If new stable professors are promoted along the same lines, without following normal procedures, claiming an ‘urgency” for which no reason is given, a great tension would be created within the Institute,” Granados said.
“With the powers that the Grand Chancellor now has, and the intentions that he reveals when dispensing with Melina and Noriega, it will be a matter of time to replace the teaching staff with another alien to the vision of St. John Paul II. For the great Polish pope at the center was always the faithfulness of the Church to the flesh of Christ, which assumes in itself the project of the Creator, and thus can heal the wounds and frailties of man,” he added.
Granados told CNA that “the students have detected the serious problems of which I have spoken.” Discussing a letter sent by students July 25 to Paglia and Sequeri, he said that “with their common, respectful and courageous action, our students testify to their appreciation for the Institute, because they have found a communion of teachers and students where great questions were raised and the truth of love could be sought.”
“Thus, horizons of greatness and a fruitful path have been opened to them in their pastoral ministry with families. The letter explains itself and includes the reasons for its fear that the identity St. John Paul II wanted to give to the Institute founded by him and entrusted to the protection of the Virgin of Fatima would not be preserved.”
Despite his concerns, Granados told CNA that he believes it is still possible for the Institute’s administrators to achieve Pope Francis’ vision for a fruitful and collaborative approach to renewing the Institute.
“For three years we have worked toward that end with Monsignor Sequeri He can testify that it has been a cordial and fruitful relationship. We found an approach to renewal that respected the mission of the Institute, for a new fruitfulness that included the heritage of our founder and the rich Catholic tradition. Many times Monsignor Sequeri assured me that we didn't have to fear rumors of layoffs. And that the collegial work of teachers would be respected.”
“Inexplicably, in the end, by surprise, the opposite has happened, with great harm to the Institute and to teachers and students. Is it possible to return to that constructive path? Archbishop Paglia and Msgr. Sequeri know that teachers and students are willing, as they have already shown. But it is necessary to retrace the wrong steps. The first obstacle that must be removed is to restore to the faculty the teachers who have been dismissed. Nothing solid is built upon the unfair dismissal of colleagues esteemed throughout the academic community, not just at the Institute, but in the entire Catholic university world,” he added.
Granados said he hopes that a more fruitful renewal will be achieved, because he believes that the mission of the John Paul II Institute is important to the Church’s mission.
“John Paul II had a great intuition that came from his life experience. ‘As a young priest,’ he wrote, ‘I learned to love human love.’ It was his work with young couples that allowed him to discover that the family is the way of the Church. For there the basic experiences that Christ assumed, redeemed, fulfilled are cultivated.”
“To recover these original experiences, whose loss is the great misery of today's man, John Paul II understood that it was necessary to illuminate the truth of love. He founded the Institute as an academic community that could investigate this truth of love, based on God's plan for marriage and family.”
“For the light for our night does not come primarily from an analysis of man's problems, but from considering something more original: the gift that God has given to man and the Church in each marriage and in each family. Here is included the intuition of mercy, which Pope Francis has promoted so much: God's first mercy for man has been to give him a family and to save the family, because from there it is possible to rebuild the whole subject human and restore the ability to act,” Granados added.
“Precisely at this point is also the importance of morality, which the Institute has cultivated from the light of love, as a way to fulfill our vocation to love, and as the ability to achieve a beautiful and full life. As in this way of love it is essential to recover the language of the body, John Paul II entrusted to the Institute his Catechesis about human love, where he outlined a theology of the body that has continued to develop in these years with great fruitfulness.”
In the “theology of the body,” Granados said, Pope St. John Paul II “calls us to truly reread the language of the body, a language inscribed in us by the Creator, and which is based on the sexual difference of man and woman open to life. From this anthropological unitary vision, a faculty has been cultivated and enriched, expanded across all continents in different sections, where the study of each discipline enriches the others, avoiding that fragmentation so typical of university work today. The sharp break we observe these days, blurring the memory of this living tradition, which is preserved especially in people, endangers this rich heritage,” the priest concluded.
“The work of the Institute and its fruit has been enormous, and can be seen in the number of trained students (priests, laity, families) who work in teaching and in family pastoral care; of conferences to which so many specialists have been invited from different disciplines; of luminous publications for pastoral ministers; of concrete pastoral initiatives to help families, bringing, like the Good Samaritan, oil for their wounds and the wine of the joy of their vocation to love.”