Farewell to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family

The JPII Institute I knew and have known was already “theological” and already “scientific”. So why the changes?

A bust of St. John Paul II decorates a room of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, Italy (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The news from the Vatican this past week that the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family would be no more—or, should I say, would be “rebooted” with a new name: John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences—was like a punch in the stomach. Surprising, but not shocking.

Let me explain why.

I was a member of the first graduating class of the Washington, D.C. “session”—one of many branches founded after the school was founded at the Pontifical Lateran University in the early 1980s as a mandate of John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio (FC)—in May of 1990, earning an S.T.L. (and later the S.T.D. in 1998). The school was housed then at the Dominican House of Studies (DHS), and now located across the street at The Catholic University of America (CUA). I was drawn to the JPII Institute and its pontifical degree in 1988 primarily for three reasons: first, because of its namesake; second, its theologically rigorous focus on marriage and family; and thirdly, its world-renown faculty. Nowhere else in the world, I remember thinking, could someone study in one place with the kind of interdisciplinary faculty they had assembled—among them, its founding vice-president and then-academic dean Carl Anderson, Benedict M. Ashley (d. 2013), O.P., John Haas, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete (d. 2014), Fr. Francis Martin (d. 2017), and later William E. May (d. 2014)—nor have access to first-rate professors in the philosophy department at CUA (e.g., Msgr. Robert Sokolowski) and the professors at the DHS (e.g., the now-Archbishop J.A. DiNoia, O.P.). Remember, these were the days before the internet and the kind of technological “bilocation” we have today, made possible by social media and online courses.

After finishing my M.A. in theology at CUA, I decided to literally walk across Michigan Ave. and enroll at the fledgling Institute. Since this was the great apostle of marriage and the family John Paul’s new initiative, I wanted to be a part of it, even if it was a bit of a “leap of faith.” Thanks to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, I was able to pursue this degree with a Fr. Michael J. McGivney Fellowship (I worked as Fr. Ashley’s graduate assistant over four semesters).

Fast forward to today, more than a quarter of a century later. We read in Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio, Summa Familiae Cura (September 20, 2017), announcing that the new Institute “succeeds and substitutes” the old one (see Article 1), that there is a change in name for the Institute. I find this name change a curious and troubling development. The JPII Institute I knew and have known was already “theological” and already “scientific.” In fact, the curriculum couldn’t have been any more theological than it was, with courses on philosophical and theological anthropology, natural law, sexual ethics, moral theology, the sacrament of marriage, Humanae vitae, and so much more. Seminars with the future Cardinal Carlo Caffarra (d. 2017) on St. Augustine, John Finnis on the human person, Paul Vitz on psychology, Stanislaw Grygiel, Kenneth Schmitz (d. 2017), and Ralph McInerny (d. 2010) helped to round out the program .

Secondly, the curriculum was from the beginning “scientific”. The Institute’s raison d’être was to engage the culture from the standpoint of faith, and not simply the thought of John Paul II but also the teachings of Vatican Council II as well as other sound philosophical and theological schools of thought. We students often remarked on how we were exposed to different points-of-view—e.g., Benedict Ashley’s more traditional Thomism or William E. May’s “new natural law” theory—and how people would be surprised to learn that such a real diversity of thought existed at the JPII Institute. But it was a diversity rooted in the “truth about God and man,” as John Paul II often stated. It wasn’t some monolithic institution with the Theology of the Body (TOB) simply being shoved down our collective throats. Yes, we had courses on JPII’s TOB (with the brilliant and hilarious Albacete), but we also had courses on modern science and theology (with the “human encyclopedia” Ashley).

So, when Francis writes, “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”, I must say that some “tweaking” or updating could have accomplished the same goals that the Holy Father is now charging the new Institute with pursuing. In fact, some of that had already occurred years ago (e.g., more and more courses were offered that had a practical and/or pastoral thrust to them). Thus, there was, to my mind, no need for a complete “re-tooling”.

Moreover, the “Mission” of the JPII Institute demonstrates it has been dedicated to these very same goals all along. Here are its first two (of five):

1. To provide a comprehensive understanding of person, marriage and family faithful to the Catholic tradition in light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II, and, reciprocally, to explore the implications of this understanding for the whole of theology and philosophy—all by means of a multidisciplinary education centered in theology and philosophy and integrated in light of John Paul II’s notion of man and woman as an embodied, sexually differentiated communion of persons created in the image of God and destined for a state of life;

2. To develop a critical understanding of issues on marriage and family, biotechnology, and ethics in light of Western/modern assumptions regarding the human person, as these bear on the nature and dignity of human life and the transcendental meaning of beauty, truth, and goodness, in a way that fosters a unity of theory and practice at the service of the Church’s “new evangelization”…

If Familiaris consortio was the original inspiration and charter for the JPII Institute, it seems, unfortunately, that Francis’ controversial and confusing Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris laetitia will serve as the same for the new Institute, as he makes clear in his motu proprio.

Pope Francis writes: “…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, 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.”

Once again, I argue, these concerns were already integral to the JPII Institute’s work; they were never overlooked.

My prayer is that the new Institute will not lose the profound thought and insight of its founder, St. John Paul II. If so, it would constitute yet one more attempt to marginalize the Pontiff’s thought—especially the TOB—in the current ecclesiastical environment. Of course, it’s not as if the JPII Institute was the “only place in town” for the TOB, but it would be a tremendous loss if it was short-circuited at the very institution named after and known world-wide as the “flagship” for its study. There are still, after almost four decades since the TOB was developed, areas of theology and Church life that have not yet been illumined by its light.

About Dr. Mark Latkovic 1 Article

Dr. Mark S. Latkovic (b. 1963) is Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, MI) where he has taught since July 1990. He has published widely in both popular and scholarly publications. He lives in Allen Park, MI with his wife of over 30 years. He has four children and one grandchild.

20 Comments

  1. ““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”,”

    ” “…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, 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.””

    Is it only to me that this sounds like utter gobbledegook? It’s about as clear as mud, and I would give much for some blunt, straightforward language for a change.

    • Leslie, are you the same Leslie that offered some interesting words on a website about women voting for Trump? Off the subject, I know.
      I am concerned about a lot of words spoken and actions taken by this Pope. I can only pray for our Holy Church.

      • Recently? I don’t remember posting anything about that but it’s possible. Now, if instead of “interesting words” you had said “scintillatingly brilliant words,” we’d know for sure. ; )

    • It’s pretty clear to me.
      1. AL replaces and overrules FC. So, the institute founded upon FC must be replaced with one founded upon AL.
      2. We are done trying to teach the world the Truth. From now on, we will allow the world to teach us. New “scientific” understandings of human anthropology will allow us to change everything.

  2. “If so, it would constitute yet one more attempt to marginalize the Pontiff’s thought—especially the TOB—in the current ecclesiastical environment … a tremendous loss if it was short-circuited at the very institution named after and known world-wide as the “flagship” for its study. ”

    It has been obvious for years now that Pope Francis didn’t like St. John Paul II and wants to dilute, reverse and decimate his influence in all areas of the Church. He summarily fires those who disagree with them when he can (Cardinal Burke), or isolates them on the sideline when he can’t (Cardinal Sarah).

    Expect a massive overturn in the faculty, perhaps with all the work-reknown faculty being fired, and an entirely new bunch of cretinish sycophants hired in the new Institute (many will probably be Jebbies).

    “Utinam disrumperes caelos et descenderes a facie tua montes defluerent 2 sicut exustio ignis tabescerent aquae arderent igni ut notum fieret nomen tuum inimicis tuis a facie tua gentes turbarentur” (Isaias 64:1)

  3. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness – Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. How prophetic an analogy. A great Body Mystical and Holy One in Baptism and Faith rapidly become Two. Even more prophetic St Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans. Commented recently NCR on Magnum Principium the Pontiff’s Motu Proprio on liturgical change. Change to canon 838 centers on Confirmation replaced by Recognitio. Recognitio required review by Rome. Confirmatio doesn’t. That is the significant difference. It gives Bishops Conferences far more leeway in translations. It’s wishful thinking by Kurt Martens professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America to suggest little is expected to change when we already have several Bishops Conferences and others leaning toward distancing from Apostolic Tradition. The more salient opinion is from Canon lawyer Father Pietrzyk editor of the Angelicum who questioned how involved will the Congregation for Divine Worship be. The obvious answer is less since the change in Canon 838 is precisely to shift that prerogative to the Bishops. Decentralization denotes local change and the crux is not simply words but doctrine. So what’s the connection with the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences? Everything. The Liturgy is centered on the Gospels, the Deposit of Faith. Directly related is the controversy over Christ’s use of the word Adultery. Cardinals Fernandez, Cupich had questioned its permanent interpretation within the Apostolic Tradition. Whether D&R are living in adultery and whether they are eligible for communion is at the heart of AL and the future of the Christian family. A danger warned by Cardinal Caffarra and recently addressed by Bishop Athanasius Schneider as the line of demarcation between Faith and Apostasy.

    • Pardon my error, “Change to canon 838 centers on Confirmation replaced by Recognitio” should read “Change to canon 838 centers on Recognitio replaced by Confirmation”.

  4. Great work, Mark. I would add that Paul Vitz and J. Augustine DiNoia, OP (now archbishop) were on the faculty as well, and G. Elizabeth Anscombe also was a visiting lecturer during that time. Indeed, we blessed. The reasons for the suppression and change are transparent nonsense.

  5. I share your concerns, Dr. Latkovic. I attended seminary at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC when the John Paul II Institute was located within the Dominican House. I was privileged to take many classes from the JPII Institute and found it to be an incredible environment for theology, science, goodness, truth, and beauty. I really don’t understand the need for the “re-booting” and re-naming of the Institute. Saint John Paul II, pray for us!

    • Fr. Calloway, with all due respect, I think we all know the reason. Pope Francis intends AL to overrule and reverse the teaching if FC. So, how could he possibly permit the Church’s premier institute on marriage, family and life issues to remain founded upon FC and dedicated to its teaching. If FC is to be buried and replaced by AL, then the institute founded upon FC must also be buried and replaced with one founded upon AL.

  6. Worst of all, they now are using the Seamles garment approach, where everything is a “life” issue. The intent is to water down the pro life activities of the church, and to turn the institutions of the church into left wing policy centers, where global warming and every other goofy cause will water down the church’s teaching. This is a tremendously ominous development, and the fact that the guy in charge Paglia, in an interview with Crux specifically talks about getting into political issues indicates a drastic turn. Remember Paglia was the one who told them to go ahead and kill ltttle Charlie Gard, the baby from England, and the Pope had to reverse this decision. Remember Paglia was the one who appeared in the homoeroric mural in his former Cathedral.

  7. It is clear that the Pope’s objective here is to bliterate the legacy St. John Paul II on issues of sexual morality and to bury forever the exhortation Familiaris Consortio. It is clear by now that he intends Amoris Laetitia to reverse the teaching of Familiaris Consortio, so how can he allow the Church’s main institute for family and life issues to remain founded upon it and dedicated to its teaching? With his recent moves to totally transform the JPII institutes he has ruthlessly eliminated a center of opposition to his new teaching. Likewise, rather than serving as a center to teach the Church’s truths to the world, the new center seems clearly designed more to supposedly learn from the new “scientific” understanding of human anthropology so that the Church can eventually welcome such things as artificial contraception, fornication and homosexual acts as non-sinful.

  8. “….with reference to developments in the human sciences and in anthropological culture in a field so fundamental for the culture of life”,”

    Nothing new under the sun here, absolutely nothing that should change JP2s teachings, as totally aligned with the teachings of Jesus Christ, and Gods glorious creation.

    The Pope is about to trigger the appearance of generating another science-based calamity for the Church.

    Pure Science (biology, physics, chemistry) is totally aligned with objective truths, which are totally aligned with Catholicism. There is only One Truth, no matter what you call it or how you attempt to manipulate (rename, recast) it.

  9. Not only is the USA being torn apart but this Pope is doing a good job of tearing apart our Catholic Faith to condition us for the New World Order…one religion that he intends to head. I pray that this Pope will step down before he, like Obama does a lot of damage to the church….Come, Lord Jesus, come!

  10. Replace the works of a great saint with the work of, someone we cannot recognize as a teacher of all things Catholic? Whose idea was that anyway? Oh, yes, he did it himself.

    Humility is the root of all virtue.

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