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Is the Pope Looking to Lambeth?

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.)

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