The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and grand chancellor of Rome’s beleaguered John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences has promised to “address and overcome” conservative Catholic criticism of the restructuring of the Institute.

Driving the news

The approval in July of new statutes for the John Paul II Institute caused great commotion among conservatives.

In an open letter, students, alumni and faculty expressed concern over aspects of the Institute’s governance, the discontinuing of some teachers and the elimination of some theology courses.

They went so far as to accuse Pope Francis of wanting to dismantle the legacy of Pope John Paul II, who set up the Institute in 1982.

In August, 49 international academics penned another missive asking for the reinstatement of the retired faculty.

It was all part of the conservative criticisms Pope Francis has been receiving since becoming Pope in 2013.

Many of the critics of Francis’ renewal of the John Paul II Institute also objected to his reform of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2016.

The dissent over the Institute came despite the Pope aiming for reform for the school since at least the Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015.

In 2017, Francis explained as his rationale for reform that new anthropological and socio-cultural realities require of theology “an analytical and diversified approach”, and [do] not allow us to limit ourselves to practices of pastoral (ministry) and mission that reflect forms and models of the past”.

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Go deeper

Speaking Tuesday at an event at Loyola Marymount University in California, Institute head Vincenzo Paglia backed the Pope’s reform project and dismissed the conservative criticisms.

“We will be able to address and overcome the concerns and the hesitancies that have greeted the renewed structure of the Academy, and I might add of its sister entity, the John Paul II Institute as well”, the Italian archbishop said.

Paglia explained that Pope Francis has given the Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute a “solid and loving theological basis” for the reform projects of both.

Most recently in a letter Francis sent in January for the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Academy.

In that letter, Paglia said, “the Pope recalls for us the great theological truth that must be our guiding principle—all of creation is brought into being by God’s love, a love that is so profound that itself it is a family, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and that it is a family so fruitful that it has produced on Earth a family that mirrors it”.

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Why it matters

“The Pope wants the Academy, and the Institute, to widen its scope of reflection, not limiting itself to addressing specific situations of ethical, social or legal conflict”, Paglia said.

Francis also wants each body to “articulate an anthropology that sets the practical and theoretical premises for conduct consistent with the dignity of the human person, and make sure it has the tools to critically examine the theory and practice of science and technology as they interact with life, its meaning and its value”.

The Italian archbishop explained that “wisdom and boldness” are necessary to fulfill the mission of the Academy and the Institute to “understand our heritage of faith with a rationality that is worthy of man”. 

“It is for this reason that the Academy, and the Institute, without in any way abandoning the tradition and accomplishments of their founders, will participate in dialogue with everyone”, Paglia insisted.

That much, with the goal that “the development and use of the extraordinary resources that the Pope speaks of is oriented toward promoting the dignity of the person and the human family”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.