News Analysis

The JPII Institute changes have US thinkers up in arms

Substantial changes to the faculty and curriculum of the John Paul II Institute in Rome have alarmed American Catholic philosophers.

The changes threaten to turn the institute from one with a unique mandate to promote the moral theology of Pope St John Paul II to one that isn’t much different from the social science department of a Catholic university.

The new statutes enacted in July indicate that Pope Francis wanted to include social science in the institute’s ambit. Technically, Francis suppressed then re-founded the Institute two years ago, under a new name.

Shortly thereafter theologian Stanisław Grygiel, a friend of John Paul II, gave an interview to a Polish journal in which he said those who are seeking answers “cannot live in a house built on sociological and psychological meanderings on marriage and the family in these various so-called cultures. Christ didn’t preach sociological opinions but the Word of the Living God.”

Mgr Pierangelo Sequeri, the Institute’s new rector, recently said in a speech: “The recomposition of the thought and practice of faith with the global covenant of man and woman is now, with all evidence, a planetary theological space for the epochal remodelling of the Christian form.”

This sort of woo-woo talk, as well as the faculty reshuffling, prompted a rebuke from leading US Catholic philosophers.

“These changes in the curriculum and faculty have been made in apparent disregard of the due process essential to the integrity of academic institutions,” wrote a group of academics who lead the American Catholic Philosophical Association. “We ask that the mission of the John Paul II Institute as originally constituted be reinstated and that the faculty members whose contributions have been excluded by the new statutes be restored to their positions in the Institute.”

In addition, the theologian George Weigel and the author Philip Lawler have weighed in to criticise the changes at the Institute. Weigel wrote that the Institute had been “hijacked by a new pack of Vandals conducting a new sack of Rome,” while Lawler remarked that “the John Paul II Institute is now dedicated to the proposition that previous Church teachings should be discarded”.

One of the new faculty members, Fr Maurizio Chiodi, spoke last year in a lecture in Rome of “circumstances ­– I refer to Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8 ­­– that precisely for the sake of responsibility, require contraception”, provoking a rebuke from philosopher Josef Seifert. Fr Chiodi was appointed in 2017 to teach “Theological Ethics of Life”. Another new appointee, Fr Pier Davide Guenzi, has responded equivocally when asked whether he agrees that same-sex sexual relations are licit.