Some very important and beautiful words today by Pope Francis on the family as he addressed the institute founded by Pope John Paul II that he re-founded in 2017.

The background to today’s meeting and the talk by the Holy Father is actually very interesting.

In a nutshell: Pope Francis in 2017, with his Motu Proprio, Summa Familiae Cura, totally re-instituted the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, created by Pope St. John Paul in 1981 to implement the measures that resulted from the 1980 Synod on the Family.

Francis wrote: “With the present Motu Proprio I institute the Pontifical Theological Institute “John Paul II” for Matrimonial and Family Sciences, which, linked to the Pontifical Lateran University, succeeds and substitutes the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on the Marriage and Family, established by the Apostolic Constitution Magnum Matrimonii sacramentum, which thus comes to an end.”

Basically, he razed the previous papal institute to the ground, changing its structure, appointing all new membership and re-writing its statutes.

Only a year earlier, he had done much the same to the Pontifical Academy for Life, also established by Pope John Paul, introducing all new membership and writing new statutes. There were several surprise changes, one of which was that academy members were no longer mandated to sign a statement that they uphold Church teaching on the sacredness of human life. In fact, just days ago, the Holy Father appointed an atheist and pro-abortion member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Criticism of the changes made in both the Institute and the Academy was vocal and widespread at the time of the changes, and it is ongoing, as both bodies continue to work under the changes instituted by Pope Francis.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is both the Grand Chancellor of the Institute and head of the Pontifical Academy for Life.


Addressing the Pontifical Theological Institute “John Paul II” for Matrimonial and Family Sciences, Pope Francis highlights the need for the Church as well as the State “to listen and support families” in these turbulent times, reminding that the family is the very fabric of society, while warning against ideological approaches.

By Lisa Zengarini (Vatican News)

Pope Francis on Monday met the academic community of the Pontifical Theological Institute “John Paul II” for Matrimonial and Family Sciences. (Vatican media)

Established in 2017

The Institute was established in 2017 with the Motu Proprio Apostolic Letter “Summa familiae cura”, succeeding and replacing the Pontifical Institute “John Paul II” for Studies on Marriage and Family, created in 1981 by Pope St. John Paul II on the heels of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

An academic reference centre on marriage and family

It was founded as an academic reference centre “in the service of the mission of the universal Church” in the field of theology and human sciences concerning marriage and the family, and related issues, with affiliated campuses around the world.

Its main mission is to develop interdisciplinary studies regarding marriage and family and to prepare graduates – laypersons, priests or religious – for teaching, research, and pastoral work in this field; for work in the medical, legal and other professions; and for the evangelization of the family as the “original cell” of human society.

Its aim is to provide a comprehensive understanding of marriage and family in light of the Catholic teachings, and of modern world assumptions regarding the human person.

In his 2017 Motu Proprio (a document issued by the Pope on his own initiative), Pope Francis expanded its mandate and non-Catholic experts have also been included.

Giving new vigour and a broader scope to the Institute

In his address to the members of the Institute, including amongst others the Grand Chancellor Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and the Dean, Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, Pope Francis recalled that with his reform he intended to give new vigour and a broader scope to the Institute, in light of the new challenges of the third millennium, in continuity with St John Paul II’s legacy.

“Theology itself is called to elaborate a Christian vision of parenthood, filiality, fraternity – not only therefore of the conjugal bond -, which corresponds to the experience of being a family, within the horizon of the whole human community.”

Pope Francis, therefore, expressed appreciation for, and encouragement to the Institute’s commitment to carry out that magisterial project “with coherence and creativity”. This commitment, he said, “fills the ‘Pontifical’ title conferred to the Institute with content, that is of serving the Church in the footsteps of the Ministry of Peter as a gift it receives and, at the same time, transmits”.

Need for a concrete theology of the condition of the family

The Pope went on to insist that the mission of the Church urgently demands an integration of the “theology of the conjugal bond” with a more “concrete theology of the condition of the family”, remarking that the “unprecedented turbulence” of our time which is putting a strain on all family ties, “requires careful discernment to grasp the signs of God’s wisdom and mercy”.

“We are not prophets of misfortune, but of hope. Therefore, in considering the reasons for this crisis, we will never lose sight of the consoling, sometimes touching signs of the capacities that family ties continue to show, benefitting the community of faith, civil society, and human coexistence.”

An irreplaceable “anthropological grammar” of society

In this regard, Pope Francis reiterated that the family remains an irreplaceable “anthropological grammar” of society. “When this grammar is neglected or upset”, he said, “the entire order of human and social relations suffers its wounds”.

“The quality of marriage and the family decides the quality of the love of the single person and of the bonds of the human community itself.”

Hence, the need for “both the State and the Church to listen and support families” encouraging their vocation for promoting “a more human world, that is, more supportive and more fraternal”.

The family is not an ideology, it is a reality

At the same time, speaking off the cuff, the Holy Father warned against “imprisoning” the family in ideological stances.

“We must preserve the family but not imprison it, make it grow as it should grow. Beware of ideologies that interfere to explain the family from an ideological point of view. The family is not an ideology, it is a reality. And a family grows with the vitality of reality. But when ideologies come to explain what the family is, everything is destroyed. Ideologies ruin things!

Marriage and families must not be expected to be perfect

To encourage their vital mission in society , the Pope further remarked that we don’t have to wait for families to be perfect: “Marriage and family” he said, “will always be imperfect and unfinished until we are in Heaven”.

Pope Francis concluded by invoking the Lord’s and the Virgin Mary’s accompaniment in the Institute’s “formidable task of supporting, caring for, cheering this creatural and ecclesial blessing which is the family”.