The Vatican Sends JPII Down the Memory Hole

Richard A. Spinello

By Richard A. Spinello

Richard A. Spinello is Professor of Management Practice at Boston College and a member of the adjunct faculty at St. John’s Seminary in Boston. He’s the author of The Encyclicals of John Paul II: An Introduction and Commentary and The Splendor of Marriage: St. John Paul II’s Vision of Love, Marriage, Family, and the Culture of Life.

Photo credit: Daniel Ibanez

If there was ever any doubt that Pope Francis’s Vatican regime is determined to subvert the doctrines of Pope John Paul II, the shameless conduct of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute’s new administration ought to stand as indisputable proof.

Followers of Saint John Paul II were apprehensive after the Institute fell into the hands of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who was appointed Grand Chancellor by Pope Francis.  Paglia is notorious for his elastic interpretations of moral theology along with the homoerotic art that sullies the walls of his former cathedral.

In 2017, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio changing the status of the Institute into a theological institute responsible for studying marriage and family from both a theological and scientific perspective. At the time, Paglia proclaimed that the exhortation Amoris Laetitia would become the “magna carta” for this re-conceived institution.

Paglia recently introduced the Institute’s new statutes, which have become the basis for many dramatic changes. Within the last two weeks, the two chairs of moral theology – Fr. José Noriega and Monsignor Livio Melina – were abruptly dismissed. At the same time, the entire remaining faculty received notice that they were being officially suspended, pending final decisions about their status for the upcoming academic year. These striking decisions contradicted Archbishop Paglia’s pronouncement in 2017 that any changes in the Institute’s mission would not affect its faculty members.

In addition, the new statutes confer an unprecedented amount of power on the Grand Chancellor.  According to those statutes, Paglia has plenary authority to hire and fire professors and to appoint senior administrators such as the president and vice-president. In virtually every university, faculty hiring and promotion decisions are made by the faculty members themselves and then approved by the Dean or Provost.  Hence this peculiar arrangement is completely anomalous and anathema to academic freedom and integrity.

Several days after the removal of Melina and Noriega, the Institute announced the dismissal of six other faculty members: Stanisław Grygiel, Monika Grygiel, Maria Louisa Di Pietro, Sr. Vittorina Marini, Fr. Jarosław Kupczak, and Fr. Przemysław Kwiatkowski. All of these scholars are distinguished in their respective fields of study.  Fr. Kupczak, for example, is the author of a brilliant book called Gift and Communion which articulates John Paul II’s marital theology informed by his creative insights on the “theology of the body.”

Dr. Monika Grygiel, one of the dismissed faculty members, gave a searing interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio regarding the upheaval. According to Dr. Grygiel, the “violence” with which the “abolition” of the Institute was carried out is “something unheard of in academia.”  The new Institute, she exclaims, has been built on “the injustice of dismissals, on non-existent, totally questionable or even defamatory grounds.”

What makes all of this so tragic is the Institute’s noble mission and origins.

Pope John Paul II commissioned Cardinal Carlo Caffarra to establish this Pontifical Institute in 1982.  Its purpose was to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, and advance John Paul II’s own orthodox but innovative insights on sexual morality. Those views were initially expressed in his magnificent pre-papal work, Love and Responsibility. The kernel of his later insights on the theology of the body germinated in this book.

Yet in the new ordinance of studies or list of courses, there is no mention of either Theology of the Body or Love and Responsibility. There are no courses dedicated to these topics – nor to any of the teachings of John Paul II, for that matter.

Beyond any doubt, the Institute’s mission and identity is now in grave danger, and this turbulence clouds its future.  There are credible reports that one of the new faculty members will be Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, a supporter of contraception. In the spirit of Amoris Laetitia, he also claims that homosexual acts can be morally permissible.  “I would not exclude,” declares Fr. Chiodi “that, under certain conditions, a homosexual couple’s relationship is, for that subject, the most fruitful way to live good relationships, taking into account their symbolic meaning, which is at the same time personal, recreational and social.”

What’s more, Fr. Chiodi rejects the anthropological underpinnings of morality which assure its objectivity and stability. Instead, the questions of morality are open and need to be constantly re-thought. “As a Church, and as theologians, we must have the courage to rethink these questions, overcoming the temptation to respond simply by invoking human ‘nature,’ understood as an unchanging substance and known to reason once and for all, in an innate way, and identified with the biological organism that becomes basic ‘natural datum’,” he told Noi Famiglia & Vita in July.

This is a staggering divergence from John Paul’s thought, which strongly emphasized the anthropological foundation of morality. In Letter to Families (1994), he argued with great precision that today’s marriage crisis is rooted in the rejection of human nature and the natural order.

Moreover, as the eminent theologians John Finnis and Germain Grisez have demonstrated, a plausible moral theory does not “invoke” static human nature as the source of moral normativity. Nor does it “deduce” a set of moral principles from that nature. Rather, those norms are derived from essential aspects of human fulfillment which take the form of basic human goods including life and health, marriage, friendship, knowledge of truth and beauty, and excellence in work and play.

Human nature, when understood as these basic possibilities of fulfilment, gives morality its secure foundation. These intrinsic goods or forms of human fulfilment are constant, and no dissenting theologian has advanced even a remotely persuasive case for “re-thinking” any one of them.

Moreover, these goods are protected by specific moral absolutes such as the moral precept that prohibits adultery.  The moral absolute forbidding adultery is not inferred from some presupposed “natural datum,” as Chiodi supposes.  On the contrary, as Finnis explains, that norm demanding exclusivity makes marriage possible and represents an unconditional requirement for the realization of this intrinsic good.  This precept is instrumental in disclosing to us the particular form of human fulfillment we call marriage as an aspect of our human nature.  Chiodi’s specious reasoning, therefore, could not be more distant from the coherent thought of Saint John Paul II and the natural law tradition that he revered.

What will come out of this disarray at the John Paul II Institute remains to be seen. John Paul II’s teachings on sexual morality, which are fully compatible with Scripture and Tradition, have been met with fierce opposition since the days when they were first introduced. The intention of Paglia and his supporters is to undermine those teachings and replace them with the views of theologians like Fr. Chiodi, with the hope that their dissenting voices will become embedded in Church culture.

St. John Paul II always believed that truth would triumph in the end, and so there is reason for hope, even in the midst of this turmoil. But if we want to make progress in the pitched battle to preserve an understanding of marriage and family faithful to the truth of the revealed Logos, we will need John Paul II’s voice, clear and unimpeded, to help us through.


Fr. Raymond de Sousa recently wrote in the Catholic Herald that this purge is a sign of weakness, not strength, and shows how doubtful the current Vatican leadership is about the moral sustainability of Amoris Laetitia.
Fr. Raymond de Sousa recently wrote an article regarding the current Vatican leadership and the moral sustainability of Amoris Laetitia. He said, “It’s the beginning of the end for Amoris Laetitia, the document of Pope Francis on the family which attempted to change the Church’s teaching on admitting people in invalid marriages to Holy Communion. When the end will come is not known, but that it will come is now clear.

Recent structural changes at the pontifical institute for marriage and family studies do not indicate a confidence that the teaching of Amoris Laetitia is true and thus will be found theologically sound. Rather, it will be enforced by diktat, abrogating academic rights in order to ensure conformity to a new orthodoxy. But an orthodoxy that has to be enforced from above, that depends upon power rather than persuasion, will not endure. Bureaucratic manoeuvring can cost professors their jobs, but it cannot establish the truth”.

If this is the way Pope Francis wants to treat the legacy of a Saintly Pope (one he himself Canonized) then he should not be surprised when a future Pope treats his “Paradigm shifts” in doctrine (Amoris Laetitia first and foremost among them) with the same contempt and discards them on the trash heap of history.