German Bishops’ Website Comments on the New John Paul II Institute

Image: Secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference in Bonn. (Source)

Yesterday, when the news broke about the arguably revolutionary remodeling of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, Edward Pentin – the National Catholic Register‘s Rome Correspondent – revealed a possible German involvement in this new push for a rapid innovation. Pentin wrote:

Meanwhile, the Register has learned via reliable sources that members of the German episcopate have recently grown frustrated with the pace of Francis’ reform and have been exerting pressure on the Pope to step up the pace — hence today’s motu proprio, and Magnum Principium, issued last week on liturgical translations. More importantly, they are said to be anxious that the reforms won’t be reversed by a future pope and so want them, as far as possible, set in stone, possibly by means of an Apostolic Constitution. [emphasis added]

In light of this important revelation – which goes along with the dominant role German prelates had played during the two deeply troubling 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family in Rome – it is worth reporting on an article that has appeared today on the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference,, and which is written by the website’s editor-in-chief, Thomas Jansen. This 20 September article discusses this new papal initiative – namely, the remodeling of the John Paul II Institute – in light of Amoris Laetitia and a “moral-theological paradigm shift” (recalling the Neo-Kantian Professor, Thomas Kuhn’s influential concept).

The article’s title already speaks for itself: “A Thinktank for Amoris Laetitia” (“Ein Thinktank für ‘Amoris Laetitia‘”). And the subtitle indicates clearly what this new reform is about:

The ‘Institute John Paul II for Studies on Marriage and the Family’ was known as a stronghold of resistance against Francis’ agenda of mercy. Now the pope dissolved it and founded a new one.

As Jansen further explains, “Pope Francis erases […] a stronghold of his critics in matters of marriage and the family.” When summing up the new motu proprio which establishes the new Institute, and after mentioning the pope’s praise for the former Institute, the author says: “Nevertheless, Francis does not conceal the fact that the previous orientation of the Institute was for him too conservative.” Here, Jansen refers to Pope Francis’ warning not to limit oneself to “forms and models of the past.” In order to highlight this fact, Jansen mentions that two professors (Don Juan José Pérez-Soba and Professor Stephan Kampowski) of the old John Paul II Institute had presented, just before the first Family Synod in 2014, a book which proposes to refute the “Kasper proposal” with regard to the “remarried” divorcees. (Cardinal George Pell, who was present at that 2014 book presentation, then said: “We must work to avoid a repetition of what happened after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae in 1968,” according to the Boston Pilot.)

Moreover, Jansen points out that this motu proprio had been prepared by previous steps such as the replacement of the Institute’s leadership. For example, in August of 2016, Monsignor Livio Melina, its president, had been replaced by Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, and Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini, its grand chancellor, had been replaced by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.

As the article points out, the new Institute “has to respond to the challenges of the time and has also to help families in difficult situations.” Here the article now reveals what is part of the reform agenda:

With regard to the content, the new foundation [of the Institute] should have a broader orientation. Critics had reproached the old Institute for being too much fixated upon the topics of procreation and contraception. Paglia has now announced that the new Institute will deal also with the relationship between the generations – a theme close to the heart of the pope – as well as with the effects of the economy upon the family and ecological themes.

This quote seems to indicate that Steve Skojec, in his own 19 September analysis of this new papal reform, was essentially right, namely: that this new Institute is aiming at picking up the revolutionary discussion that is to be found in the “majority report” of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control that had been stalled with the 1968 promulgation of Humanae Vitae.

The last paragraph of Thomas Jansen’s article might also give us an indication that Edward Pentin’s report about the German (even neo-Kantian) influence upon this new papal decision is indeed close to reality:

Behind the new decree of the pope clearly stands the insight that the papal document Amoris Laetitia is not sufficient in order to help along the breakthrough of his moral-theological paradigm shift in the Catholic Church. The new Institute should deepen the intention of Amoris Laetitia on the height of the current scientific discussion, Paglia explained. With its world-wide branches and its international contacts, the Institute can take here a leading role. In the German-speaking world,  it barely influenced the moral-theological debate [in the past]. In Latin America and many developing countries, however, this institution has strongly influenced a generation of clergymen. [emphasis added]

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