The renewal of the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II for Marriage and Family Sciences in Rome should not be understood “as a war between two popes”, but as “simply the continuity of the magisterium”, the Institute’s president has claimed.

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Pierangelo Sequeri denounced to La Croix the ultraconservative “fantasies” around the Institute’s redesign.

Those “fantasies” have led to reactionaries criticising Pope Francis for allegedly dismantling the theological legacy of John Paul II with his restructuring of the school.

“I want to contest the idea that this new institute was built on the will to destroy what was done previously and on a theology that would adapt to the world and endanger the integrity of Catholic doctrine”, Sequeri said.

“We really cannot say that Catholic doctrine is in peril even though our mental habits may receive an aggiornamento [update]”, he explained.


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Sequeri praised Pope Wojtyla for ending, with his ‘theology of the body’, the “somewhat Gnostic ambiguity surrounding sexuality in classical doctrine”.

But he said that “the theme of the relationship between man and woman, of marriage, is not only the theology of sexuality”.

“It is also a morality of love”, Sequeri said.

He added that the lack of consensus on what “love” means today means that Catholic theology on that topic has become “a little weak”.

“Church men and women are too ingenious: they still think that if we do everything right with sexuality, everything will be fine”, Sequeri denounced.

Instead, the Church must pay more attention today to “the contradictions of life, of errors, of pressures weighing on the family and disintegrating it”.

“This disintegration concerns the singular institutions of the family, namely fatherhood, motherhood and fraternity”, Sequeri explained, adding that theology has not given “enough thought” to the modern breakdown of these concepts.

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Why it matters

Recalling that John Paul II also tried to incorporate modern philosophical insights into theology – just as Francis is trying to do – Sequeri said the task for the Church is to avoid “intellectual laziness” on sexual and family morality.

“When you find a solution that seems interesting and is accepted, the temptation is easy to rest on it and defend it as if it were a framework beyond which there would be nothing more to say”, the John Paul II Institute president warned.

Sequeri also denounced that the “ideologisation” of the figure of John Paul II in the war over the restructuring of the Institute that bears his name has been “detrimental” to the Church.

He said the conservative criticisms of the school’s redesign have signalled a “worrying return to a certain Protestant principle, in which a theologian could stand up and say to the pope: ‘You are mistaken! You’re moving away from the authentic tradition!'”.

“To claim to be an authority and judge the Magisterium and the pope is like setting oneself up as a Magisterium: it is no longer Catholic theology”, Sequeri decried.

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What’s next

The challenge for the Church today is to move past blanket condemnations of sexuality and to teach in a constructive way how Catholics can “govern” this aspect of their lives, Sequeri said.

“This requires choices, morality, an ethic of sexuality that must be filled with positive content, not just limits and prohibitions”, the John Paul Institute president explained.

“It is our responsibility to help create a proper language that can speak the Christian truth in an intelligible way”, he said.

For Pope Francis, moral condemnation of certain behaviours “is a necessary truth but it is not sufficient for the right exercise of marital sexuality and family relationships”, Sequeri explained.

“What is at stake” for Bergoglio is rather “a justice, as Jesus says, that is greater than that of the Pharisees, who were preoccupied with the letter of the law, not the spirit”.

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