Is the Pope Looking to Lambeth?

November 2017

On September 19 Pope Francis issued his sixteenth motu proprio. With Summa Familiae Cura, the Holy Father formally closed the Vatican institute established in 1981 by Pope St. John Paul II to study marriage and family life. Francis announced that he is replacing John Paul’s initiative with a new institute with a slightly different name and a very different focus. The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family has now been re-imagined as the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

Having already changed its leadership, statutes, and members, Pope Francis intends the new institute to take a different approach to the study of family life. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, whom Francis named chancellor of the new institute, told Vatican Radio that this Pope has achieved a fuller “realization” of his predecessor’s teaching on marriage, and that Francis’s controversial 2016 apostolic exhortation on marriage and family, Amoris Laetitia, will be the inspiration for the institute.

No, this is not a joke. Archbishop Paglia actually told an international radio audience that Francis has achieved a fuller realization of John Paul’s teaching on marriage and the family than the sainted Pope himself ever did! Paglia, by the way, is the same papal chum whom Francis tapped to lead the gutted-and-reopened Pontifical Academy for Life (see our New Oxford Note “A Pontificate of Mercy — or a Merciless Pontificate?” Sept.). He is a vocal advocate for giving Holy Communion to “remarried” Catholics, and he was responsible for inviting homosexual couples to the 2015 World Meeting of Families. But wait, there’s more: Paglia is the same prelate responsible for commissioning a homoerotic mural featuring his own likeness in his cathedral in Terni-Narni-Amelia. This is the man Francis has entrusted to lead the study of marriage and family life! (Excuse us, “family sciences,” whatever that means.)

A year ago to the day that Francis issued his motu proprio (Sept. 19, 2016), four cardinals submitted five yes-or-no questions, or dubia, to the Pope asking him if Amoris Laetitia conforms to perennial Catholic teaching on marriage, moral absolutes, conscience, and the sacraments (see our New Oxford Note “A ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Vatican?” Jan.-Feb.). Is this a mere coincidence? Or is it a malicious poke in the eye, an indirect answer to the cardinal’s questions? One might concede coincidence if it were not for another coincidence: Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna and one of the four dubia signers, was tasked by John Paul II in 1980 to found the original institute. (Caffarra passed away this September, less than two weeks before the official dissolution of his institute.)

On May 10, 2016, Cardinal Caffarra delivered a talk to graduates of the institute, during which he explained that the institute was assigned the “specific task” of “reflection” on Humanae Vitae. Bl. Pope Paul VI’s watershed encyclical reaffirmed the traditional Catholic teaching that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of human life,” and it called the use of modern means of artificial contraception “intrinsically wrong.”

One wonders: Is it Pope Francis’s intention to revisit — and possibly reinterpret — Humanae Vitae in light of what he calls “the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called to respond”? Cardinal Caffarra, during his 2016 talk at the institute, addressed the possible revision of Humane Vitae for “pastoral” reasons — and he wasn’t pleased. “The alternative to a Church with doctrine is not a more pastoral Church,” Caffarra said, “but an arbitrary Church enslaved to the spirit of the age: praxis sine theoria coecus in via, the Medieval scholars used to say: ‘Practice without theory is a blind man on the road.’”

As we have seen, Pope Francis isn’t one to entertain opinions, like Cardinal Caffarra’s, that dissent from his own; he prefers sycophants at his service. Hence, the high-profile presence of Archbishop Paglia, one of Francis’s ideological allies, at the head of the two newly reconstituted institutions.

Gerhard Cardinal Müller recently expressed concern about the Francis-flavored groupthink that currently dominates the Vatican. “It is a very big danger for the Church that some ideological groups present themselves as the exclusive guardians of the only true interpretation of Amoris Laetitia,” he told Edward Pentin (National Catholic Register, Sept. 28). “They feel they have the right to condemn all people of another standpoint as stupid, rigid, old-fashioned, medieval, etc. Nobody can, for example, say Cardinal Caffarra didn’t understand anything of moral theology.” It should come as no surprise that Francis abruptly sacked Müller this July, removing him from his post as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith without warning or explanation.

Blogger Steve Skojec recently explored the question of whether Francis intends to revisit and reinterpret the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception (, Sept. 19). Skojec provides these informative background details:

- In May 2017 Italian journalist Marco Tosatti revealed information he had received that a “secret commission” had been formed to “examine and potentially study changes to the Church’s position on the issue of contraception as it was explained in 1968 by Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.”

- In June Italian Catholic historian Roberto de Mattei verified the existence of the commission, revealing that Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor at the institute, would be in charge of the work. De Mattei said Pope Francis “nominated” Marengo “to ‘re-interpret’ the encyclical Humane Vitae by Paul VI, in the light of Amoris Laetitia, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the former’s promulgation, which falls next year.”

- By July Archbishop Paglia was summarily denying the Humanae Vitae commission’s existence. However, Msgr. Marengo admitted in an interview with Vatican Radio that a “research group” looking into Humanae Vitae did exist, although he insisted it was “a work of historical-critical investigation without any aim other than reconstructing as well as possible the whole process of composing the encyclical.”

Seriously? Why would Pope Francis form a group to study the composition of the 1968 encyclical if the intent is not to fundamentally change its message? There’s reason for suspicion. Let’s recap: Pope Francis issues Amoris Laetitia. A few months later, four cardinals led by Carlo Caffarra issue five dubia to which the Holy Father has declined to respond either publicly or privately. Instead, Francis follows up by firing nearly all the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life and placing it under new leadership (Paglia), with new members (some of whom are unbelievers and not pro-life) and a new mission (one that undermines Pope St. John Paul II’s good work). A year to the day after the cardinals issued their dubia, Pope Francis announces he will gut and re-staff the Pontifical Pope John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, also now under Paglia’s leadership, endowing it with the new mission to promote Amoris Laetitia.

It hardly requires a wild stretch of the imagination to suspect that Pope Francis’s endgame is to redefine the Church’s teaching on contraception, just as the Anglican Communion did at its infamous Lambeth Conference in 1930.

Now that he has removed or repurposed various obstacles, might Pope Francis have his eye on his own Lambeth? The question is not as absurd as it might have seemed just two years ago.

DOSSIER: Pope Francis

DOSSIER: Pro Life Issues & Culture of Death

DOSSIER: Pope St. John Paul II

New Oxford Notes: November 2017

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