It is fair to say the suppression-and-reconstitution of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, as the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences has received more media attention and press scrutiny than the authors of the business expected, and of a less favorable character than they likely desired.
That is largely their own fault.
The high and heavy-handedness with which those, who have conducted the work of re-founding the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family as the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, is perhaps the most galling thing about the business. There were better, smarter, less messy ways to do what they have done.
Parts One and Two of this series treated in some detail the doings at, around, and over the Institute, paying special attention to the vicissitudes of two long-serving and highly regarded professors: Msgr. Livio Melina and Fr. José Noriega DCJM, whose presence was a fixture for many years at the old Institute, and for whom students and teachers alike continue to nurture affection. Melina also served as President of the Institute’s principal seat in Rome, from 2006 to the old Institute’s suppression in 2017.
The professors found themselves without their former positions in the new institute — the architects of the new Institute had eliminated their former roles — and in fact, the professors found themselves without any stable position at all within it. To hear the responsible authorities tell it, the matter was strictly business: the men were not fired — technically true — their positions were eliminated (and Noriega, who had four months to go as Superior of his religious congregation, alas, was therefore legally estopped — they claimed — from taking on a stable professorship, even though he had held both positions peacefully for several years).
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia — the Grand Chancellor of the new JPII Institute, and under Francis, chiefly responsible for the overhaul — might have created two distinguished chairs in fundamental and special moral theology for Msgr. Melina and Fr. Noriega, with rights to run a few doctoral seminars and direct a few dissertations.
Profs. Melina and Noriega could have taken any such or similar offer, or left it.
Taking it, they would have been retreating from leadership roles in administration and allowing the ascendant powers to clip their wings, but they would have continued to do their research work and kept forming the minds of their students, even if they should have been no longer shaping the institution as before. Sometimes, things happen. Rejecting it, Melina and Noriega would have been ceding the ground entirely.
Either way, Archbishop Paglia would have accomplished his takeover, and either preserved a veneer of continuity or staked out the ground on which to build a case for a claim of reasonable accommodation in good faith, should it have come to it.
Instead, the new powers conducted a ham-fisted purge, and flatly denied it. When they got called on it, they offered a series of explanations, not one of which passed muster. They promised they would be available to answer questions, and then said they’re not yet ready to respond to queries. That has not stopped the flow of social media sniping and hit pieces from soi-disant defenders of Pope Francis.
Though the business is badly done, the real driver of this story-that-never-should-have-been-a-story is, in large part, the refusal of the Vatican types tasked with doing the thing to admit they’re doing what they are plainly doing and in fact have largely done already. If they had, they would have faced a couple of bad days in the press, with some questions about the nature of the changes and the need for them, and maybe a few op/ed pieces that could have been spun as sour grapes.
That ship has sailed. What should have been a reasonably straightforward reorganization has become a protracted struggle. It didn’t have to be this way.
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