ROME — Pope Francis on Tuesday decided to upgrade an institute for studies on marriage and family named for St. John Paul II and established by the Polish pope in 1981, replacing it with a pontifical theological institute designed to explore the “lights and shadows” of family life with “realism” and “love,” while also staying faithful to the Church’s teaching.
With a legal document known as a motu proprio published on Tuesday, the Vatican announced that the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family will now be replaced by the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.
The original institute was created following a Synod of Bishops on the family and John Paul’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.
Another two-fold synod of bishops on the family in Oct. 2014 and Oct. 2015, together with the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Francis wrote in the motu proprio presented on Tuesday, has led the Church to a “renewed awareness of the family gospel and the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called upon to respond.”
Contemporary anthropological and cultural changes, the pope writes, require “a diversified and analytical approach” which cannot be “limited to pastoral and missionary practices” of the past.
“The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church,” Francis wrote, quoting his document on the family, and John Paul’s exhortation.
“We do well to focus on concrete realities, since the call 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,” he added.
Instead of being limited to practices of the past, Francis wrote, the Church must be able to interpret the faith in a context in which individuals have less support from social structures, their relationships, and their families. This reinterpretation, however, must be done remaining faithful to the Church’s teaching.
“Faithful to Christ’s teaching we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows,” the document released Tuesday says, once again, quoting Amoris Laetitita.
Like its predecessor, the new institute will work as part of Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University and will be connected to the Vatican through the Congregation for Catholic Education, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Life and the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
The institute, which comes into effect immediately, will offer students courses leading to a diploma, a license and a doctorate in marriage and family sciences.
Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, grand chancellor of the institute, described Tuesday’s announcement as a “relaunch and broadening” of the “great idea” of John Paul II.
Speaking with reporters soon after the document was released, Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the institute, said that only Pope Francis knows why a relaunch was needed. He added, however, that it’s an important gesture, refuting those who claim that it’s no longer relevant, or that it’s only “tolerated” within the Church.
It’s a strong gesture, Sequeri said, addressed to the “dissidents,” to all those who claim the John Paul II Institute is unnecessary.
“The pope put his signature to it, saying it isn’t something that he ‘tolerates’ but that he supports and relaunches it.”
Sequeri also said that John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ will be part of the program at the institute, which he defined as a “treasure.”
The “theology of the body” was the topic of a series of almost 130 lectures John Paul II gave during his weekly Wednesday audiences between 1979 and 1984, and expanded in many of his subsequent documents. Experts say it constitutes an analysis of human sexuality, and is among the major teaching contributions of his pontificate.
Paglia said that, at this moment, the body of professors working at the institute will remain, with new faculty being added to respond to the enlarged curricula. Among other things, he said, the history of the family will be explored, as well as the many scientific aspects of the family, from anthropology to bioethics.
With the decision of making it a theological institute, Paglia said, the pope enlarges its scope, from being focused only on sacramental and moral theology, to one that is also biblical, dogmatic and historic, and that keeps under consideration modern-day challenges.
He also said that, since it’ll work closely with the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, which he also oversees, the institute will enter into dialogue with non-Catholics.
Marriage and family, he added, is not a “Catholic thing,” but a global one, hence the need to dialogue with all those who “love the one human family.”
“A Church that goes out also means an institute that goes out,” Paglia said.