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JPII Institute on Marriage and the Family: RIP

by Tony M.

The current papacy has been flexing its muscles and baring its teeth in ever more profoundly effective and visible ways in the last year or two. This can be seen in moves that are taken with abruptness, without “dialogue” or consultation, and right out in front of the public view. For example, In August of 2017, Dr. Joseph Siefert, a professor of a Catholic university in Spain, published a statement that included the comment that the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is an “theological atomic bomb”. He was fired from his position only a couple weeks later, apparently (so far as I have seen) without any folderol like a charge of misconduct, a hearing, or even notice to him beforehand that his position was being considered. The 2018 Synod on Youth was prepared and railroaded right from the beginning, with major names excluded from the invitation list because they were orthodox, and known heretics invited. The upcoming Amazonian Synod is just the same, only much more so.

All along the same lines: for the Apostolic John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family, Francis announced in 2017 that it would be abolished and that a new institute would succeed it. He at least bothered to give lip service to the idea that “the original inspiration that gave life to the former Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family continue to bear fruit in the broader field of activity of the new Theological Institute

Lip service indeed, but not any deeper. In fact, the Pope could have easily corrected any deficiencies in the old institute with ease by simply directing changes be made to it, and keeping its fundamental being and essence intact. But such was not the purpose. Francis, legally speaking, eradicated the old institute and created a brand new entity with almost but not quite the same name: the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Science.

The silliness of the name change is apparent from two simple facts: First, the whole point and purpose of the original was to undertake theological studies, and anything with both “pontifical” and “John Paul II” in the name of an academic institution about marriage would – by any normal person, at least – be assumed to include theology as a guiding principle. Adding “theological” to the name did not make this any clearer or change the idea of the entity. Secondly, the whole purpose of the original was to bring theology and other sciences into bearing on each other with respect to marriage and the family: bioethics, especially, but psychology and anthropology, certainly, were always a major and visible part of the institute, elements critical to the whole enterprise. And this was well known, so it was entirely unnecessary to change the name. (CF this article.)

And the same can be said of the rationale claimed for decommissioning the old and erecting the new:

This Synodal season has led the Church towards a renewed awareness of the Gospel of the family and of the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called upon to answer. The centrality of the family in the paths of “pastoral conversion”[1] of our communities and of “missionary transformation of the Church”[2] demands that – also at the level of academic formation – in reflection on marriage and on the family the pastoral perspective and attention to the wounds of humanity must never be lacking. If a fruitful examination of pastoral theology cannot be conducted neglecting the special ecclesial profile of the family[3], likewise that same pastoral sensibility must be aware of the valuable contribution of thought and reflection that research, in the deepest and most rigorous way, the truth of the revelation and wisdom of the tradition of faith, in view of its better comprehension at the present time.

“The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church. … We do well to focus on concrete realities, since ‘the calls and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history’, and through these the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family”.[4]

Anthropological-cultural change, that today influences all aspects of life and requires an analytic and diversified approach, does not permit us to limit ourselves to practices in pastoral ministry and mission that reflect forms and models of the past. We must be informed and impassioned interpreters of the wisdom of faith in a context in which individuals are less well supported than in the past by social structures, and in their emotional and family life. With the clear purpose of remaining faithful to the teaching of Christ, we must therefore look, with the intellect of love and with wise realism, at the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with its lights and its shadows.[5]

For these reasons I have considered it timely to give a new legal disposition to the John Paul II Institute, so that “the farsighted intuition of Saint John Paul II, who strongly wanted this academic institution, today [may] be better recognised and appreciated it its fruitfulness and timeliness”.[6] Therefore, I have arrived at the deliberation of instituting a Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Science, broadening its field of interest, both in relation to the new dimensions of the pastoral task and of the ecclesial mission, and with reference to developments in the human sciences and in anthropological culture in a field so fundamental for the culture of life.

Stuff & Nonsense.

There was absolutely no need to eradicate the old one if the point of the change was to “broaden its field of interest” as suggested. The old one ALREADY HAD those fields of interest as integral to its purpose, and if those fields lacked sufficient emphasis it would have been easy to correct that, such as by adding a chair in pastoral or mission work, or other additions to the bylaws. They didn’t want to improve on the old institute because it was the nature of it that was the “problem” from their perspective: it was ordered to implementing Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor, with their principles of objective morality. They wanted to implement Amoris Laetitia instead, which as they take it is incompatible with Veritatis Splendor. (So much for “continuity” with JPII: this is, effectively, the pope’s answer to the 5 Dubia.) Secondly, nothing in the synod (either explicitly or implicitly) actually called for diminishing, much less abolishing, JPII’s own institute. And, let’s not be too nice about this: the act of abolishing the prior entity and erecting a brand new one in its place, retaining the very name of JPII, is most definitely a slap in the face to JPII, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear: We don’t like the stuff you gave us, JPII, we want something completely different. But we know that your name still carries a lot of cachet, so we’ll stick your name on our own entity and you can turn over in your grave all you want, ‘cause we don’t care what you think. This was, also, an ex-post-facto slap in the face of one of the Dubia Brothers, Cardinal Cafarra, who died 2 days before Francis issued his motu proprio setting this in motion, and who was the first head of the original JPII Institute, appointed by the original JPII. I guess you could call that a two-fer.

No, making changes to the old institute was not the order of the day, because those in charge didn’t want to be saddled by the long, drawn-out process of dealing in the minutiae and interminably long workings of internal bureaucracy by piecemeal acts, like “letting” professors go one at a time as they could be pushed out, or by altering this or that policy objective through votes in assembly. Doing all that piecemeal could take as long as a generation. That’s for when you DON’T have the power. When you DO have the power, USE it: eradicate what you don’t like, get rid of the troublesome people who spout stuff you don’t want people to hear, and put your own cronies in.

And oust the old fogeys they did: in July this year, the new grand vizier (ahh, excuse me, the Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Paglia ) did the following: He eliminated the two chairs of general moral theology and special moral theology (i.e. with respect to marriage); he outright fired the two professors who held those chairs, one of them being the former president of the institute; he “suspended” ALL of the other teachers, with the admonition that he would hire back some of them (guess which ones); he replaced the institute’s internal laws with a new set, placing far more direct power into the hands of … you guessed it: the grand vizier; and decreased the ability of the teaching professors to be heard in policy decision-making (which extends all the way from determinations of curriculum to approval of dissertations, to selection of new professors).

Fr. Jose Granados, the vice president of the Institute, was entirely right when he said“The loss of collegiality is astonishing,

The new administration doesn’t really want collegiality, it wants complete control. When you don’t have the top positions, “collegiality” helps get you power. Wen you do have the top positions, collegiality means sharing your power with others – but they have no intention of sharing power with the orthodox faculty. Now we know what elite liberals really mean when they mouth collegiality: heads we win, tails you lose. (Those of us paying attention to the liberals lo these many decades have already noted this.)

The current students are protesting the actions, but I can’t imagine that the protest will have the least effect. The top guy, Paglia, seems to be carrying out exactly what the Pope wants, and he doesn’t answer to anyone else. A pretty large share of the professors (i.e. the ones suspended and waiting for notification if they are going to be re-hired or not) are almost certainly going to be so relieved at getting their jobs back that they won’t want to rock the boat too strenuously. The students’ protests will bounce off of Paglia like he was a brick wall covered by rubber: they have no power, he has nearly all, and is not afraid to use it.

This leads me to two independent observations. First, why is this the first time in many decades we have seen the top leadership of the Church use its power in a forthright manner directly at its goals? Why did not Paul VI, JPII, and Benedict take similarly direct action against bishops, colleges, religious orders, and heretical theologians? They had the power, but they refused to wield it. And why was Francis (and his cohort) willing to use it? I am reminded of Jesus’ comment: “The children of this world in their generation are wiser than the children of light.” They, at least, are conscious of how to use their power to advance their purpose. What a pity Paul VI, JPII, and Benedict were unwilling to.

I fear that the reason is that those earlier popes were in some degree members of the “soft liberalism” of “collegiality” and “dialogue” and “mutual enhancement”, even while remaining orthodox theologically. They wanted the procedural format of liberalism to win out, and so they accepted – in some sense even chose – to fight error with one arm tied behind their backs. They thus avoided using the powers granted them by the constitution of the Church, and by Canon Law. Mostly, out of some mistaken notion of allowing truth to persuade those in error, instead of suppressing bad teaching by direct means.

This was mistaken for two major reasons: First, those in error were not in error because they had not had the truth explained to them sufficiently: many of them are brilliant men and women, with high innate capacity, and far more time than I have to access the sources of data that are sufficient to make the truth clear. If I can readily grasp what the Church teaches and has always taught, with my limitations, they could too. It’s not that they haven’t heard the truth, it’s that they have rejected the truth. This is a matter of will, not intellect: all the careful instruction in the world won’t turn a person from error if he is determined to believe error. Overcoming their wrongness had to deal with where the wrongness subsisted, and it wasn’t primarily in the intellect, it was in the will.

Secondly, if the Romans and the British have given us anything worthwhile, the principle of the rule of law is one of the leading ones. Law is not there to be a meany making life hard, it is there for the common good. Canon Law and liturgical law were made to promote good for many people, and they were given punitive measures to promote good. Refusing to use the authority given to popes and bishops to reprimand those who reject the truth and teach that publicly, and refusing to admonish public sinners, FAILS to support and promote the common good envisioned in the very making of those laws. Either they should have changed the laws if they were bad laws, or they should have followed the laws since they promote the common good. It is a failure of vision to be unable to see how following punitive law promotes the common good. The current administration officials are showing (through past neglect) just one of the reasons following those laws is supposed to promote good: if the laws had been used properly, Paglia and his sort would have been reprimanded, censured, demoted, or defrocked long ago, and they would not be in a position to do such wide-ranging damage today. There might have even been a plausible chance that Paglia could have been corrected and set on the right path 40 or 50 years ago, and then he could have been a force for the right instead – not to mention the improvement in his chances for personal salvation.

My second observation has to do with the major thesis underlying the mode of Vice President Granados’s complaint about the loss of collegiality: academic freedom. He attaches great weight to the fact that these moves by Paglia are a direct assault on academic freedom, and (especially) on tenure, one of the essential pieces of that academic freedom as it is regarded today.

The problem is that “academic freedom” itself lost its mooring in underlying truth at least as far back as the Land O’ Lakes statement of 1967 – the official repudiation by most Catholic colleges to be bound by Humanae Vitae – but more likely quite a bit earlier (see the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure )

The notions expressed in these documents of “academic freedom”, and how they have been interpreted universally in academia, is that of the pure, unadulterated liberal sense of freedom: to do or say whatever you like, (with, in some interpretations only, the sole limitation that you do not thereby infringe someone else’s freedom). In effect, then, the academic is treated as being protected from firing no matter what he teaches as long as he “sincerely believes it”, (and, as long as he is liberal enough, as long as he does not offend snowflakes in the university too often (except if he does so by being farther to the left than they – that kind of offense is protected too.) Note, then, that a Christian conservative can teach conservative ideas as long as he can couch the idea in a non-threatening way to snowflakes. Of course, if the idea itself is inherently offensive to them – or if some of them claim it is - then the he will be fired for teaching it.)

But this has never been compatible with the Christian sense of freedom. The latter notes that to be more free implies being more able to achieve our true end, and that the nature of our true end is not a matter of whimsey or free election by us, it is given to us by God in giving us our human nature. Thus slavery to sin is (the chief) impediment to freedom properly understood, and closely following it is the blindness of incurable error or ignorance. Being fallen, we humans are readily prone to both evils. Christ came to remedy these, and it is He who said “The truth shall set you free.” Christian institutions of learning, particularly, have the elevated dignity of teaching the truth as protected by His revelation, so that by adhering to the true faith a Christian teacher is more able to lead his students to the freedom of the truth. Contrariwise, though, the teacher at a Christian institution who teaches something that is incompatible with the faith is undermining the students’ freedom, he is damaging them. It is worse still if he does so as if his teaching were part of that revelation from God (i.e. if he falsely puts his own meaning on a passage of Scripture contrary to the rest of Scripture and to Tradition).

The Christian teacher has a set of guardrails guiding him toward the truth. Sure, he can defy the guardrails and run himself off a cliff, but claiming that doing so is somehow “more free” is a strange notion of freedom. And knowingly directing others to do so is an offense against charity and against their right to receive Christian teaching pure and complete. Because a Catholic institution can expressly look to the ongoing protection of the Holy Spirit in the authority of the Catholic Church for guidance on such matters, it is doubly incumbent on teachers of Catholic colleges to teach in a manner consistent with revelation, and is doubly an offense against the virtues of truth to ignore or malign that revelation either as given in Scripture or Tradition. Consequently, and directly contrary to the normal handling of academic freedom cases in academia, for a teacher at a Catholic college to knowingly teach in a manner inconsistent with the Catholic Church’s teachings is a definitive cause for dismissal, and should be treated as such. Hence the Catholic college presidents who signed or abide by the Land O’ Lakes Statement are in defiance of Pope JPII’s 1990 Ex Corde Ecclesia, in which he outlined just what I said above, and in which he required that all Catholic theology teachers receive a mandatum to secure their orthodoxy. That papal document remains effectively a dead letter at perhaps 200 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities, the vast majority of them by far. (Every single Jesuit university included. At this point one may legitimately wonder whether they even TRY to be thought of as Catholic, but they sure don’t proclaim that they are NOT Catholic.)

Be that as it may, I suggest that the students and (former) faculty try fighting fire with fire. They don’t have any pull within the organization itself that can stand up to Paglia because he is effectively a dictator, subject only to the whims of the pope. But, OUTSIDE of the pontifical world, this institute wants to be called an “academic” institution and have the degrees it awards mean something. So, the faculty should go to the approving bodies of academia and argue that the new statutes of the institute make it little better than a diploma mill. They should argue that it has no internal controls on the grand vizier, it has no collegiality, no tenure protection for faculty, nothing to make sure the institution respects the principles of each discipline, no academic freedom, etc. They should scream to the high heavens about the firing of the two chairs of the two moral theology disciplines as being contrary to “academic freedom”. These are all procedural / liberal-democratic complaints, but they could be effective in forcing Paglia to amend the statutes, at least a little. The surrounding bodies of academia are ALL hidebound in the forms and procedures of modernism, and this includes their vaunted (though invalid) senses of academic freedom. So use them against Paglia.

It is of course absolutely idiotic to presume that simply doing away with the distinctive disciplines of "Fundamental Theology" and "Special Theology" as separate departments with their own separate chairs, implies firing the two teachers who were the chairmen of those departments. Indeed, the brilliance, competence, and international acclaim of their work attests to the fact that these men can easily teach some dozen or more classes that WILL be retained by the new institute as newly organized. There can be no possible conclusion about their firing than that Paglia didn't want those two men around in any way. The new bureaucratic method of killing the career of a tenured teacher is to eradicate the department to which he holds tenure - according to some, at least, this is enough to undermine tenure because the promises of tenure apply to the department, not to the university as a whole. Be that as it may, Paglia certainly is flouting the "spirit" of tenure by his firing those men while merely "suspending" all the rest of the faculty, and this certainly can be used against him. As the students point out: the institute had already published upcoming classes and accepted enrollment of students in classes to be taught by them, and many students already had theses in preparation under these teachers. Firing them without cause is certainly an injustice to these students, if nothing else.

Comments (3)

Wow. I didn't even hear about this on Facebook. (There's glory for you, Tony. You conveyed information that wasn't coming across on Facebook. Of course, I'm a Protestant, but I have lots of Catholic FB friends.)

You make an excellent point about the children of this world being wiser in their generation than the children of light.

It strikes me that the current papacy is pretty much openly hostile to conservatism. If I may say so, this is one reason why I find it faintly pathetic when some staunchly conservative outfit finds some little phrase or statement in which Pope Francis got it right for once and trumpets it to support their mission in order to convey the idea that business is going as usual in the Catholic Church and that they are on the side of the Pope, really, somehow. I've got news: The Pope is not on the side of them.

Nor do I take delight in this, as some anti-Catholics do. It's a sad state of affairs.

Conservative groups often have made part of their mark their loyalty to the pope. It worked somewhat better (as a sign of when the pope was Pius XII, or (to a degree) JPII and Benedict. Somewhat less so when the pope was John XXIII, Paul VI, or (of course) Francis.

The crux of the issue comes in with what sort of loyalty is due to the pope, the Vatican organs of governance, the cardinals, and to the bishops. And the big problem in following that obligation is in recognizing when what the bishop (or cardinal, etc) is teaching what has already been taught by the Church as
)1) dogma, or
(2) solemnly defined as true and necessary for protection of dogma, or
(3) taught infallibly by the universal magisterial authority of the bishops dispersed throughout the world, or proposed to the faithful as to be believed - and the nearly infinite degrees of possible insistence for the last category that allows our response to take a nearly infinite range of firmness in assent.

It is this variability that confuses people and makes it look like a conservative who is being loyal to earlier popes and bishops by assenting to their teaching seem on the surface less than fully loyal to a current pope or bishop. In reality, there is no defect in a Catholic who adheres to the firm teaching of past popes and who then fails to give wholehearted assent to a new teaching that (a) appears to be in conflict with prior teaching, and (b) for which the new teacher makes no effort to elaborate on any resolution of that conflict. The mere fact that the new bishop refuses to make any effort to address the conflict would seem to be, as such, an indicator of a lack of emphasis on how strongly he is insisting on adherence by the faithful.

Also, one of the indicators the Church has relied upon as helping to identify how seriously the Church is calling for assent to a teaching, is on how often and long the Church repeats that teaching. But it should be noted that the Church thinks in terms of centuries and millennia, not just months and years. If a bishop is urging a new point of view today, and he repeats it for 30 years, that's a drop in the bucket. Let me know whether it is being taught 200 years later, or 400 years later.

The category of Church teaching to which we give "religious assent", which is the sort capable of that aforementioned great variability in our proper response, has always called for nuance and thought on the part of informed Catholics, this is nothing new. For a Catholic to give wholehearted and absolute assent to a teaching that was not proposed as a teaching to which we give wholehearted and absolute assent, is making a mistake just as much as the Catholic who fails to assent at all to a teaching that calls for religious assent. The "conservatives" who rush to appear to be side-by-side with the pope by touting his perspective as "if the pope said it, it's true," regardless of whether the pope is saying something off the top of his head or issuing a much more definitive teaching, are not doing the Church any favors.

I would just say that in the case of a pope who pretty frequently tries to undermine tradition (as this one does), it's a bad idea for a staunch traditionalist Catholic to cite him even for the things that he occasionally gets right and sort of piously quote him in one's blog posts and so forth: "As Pope Francis has said, ______." It gives the impression that the person is either a) extremely naive or b) extremely opportunistic. To my ear, it has a fake ring. I get impatient with it. Cite somebody else. Even some other pope. At a minimum, such a person should say, "*Even* Pope Francis has said..." or something that acknowledges what this pope is usually like. But of course that would interrupt the solemn vibe they are trying to produce.

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