Pontifical Lateran University, at which the Pontifical John Paul II Institute is located./ calu777/flickr. CC BY 2.0
Rome, Italy, Jan 28, 2021 / 16:41 pm America/Denver (CNA).
The John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences generated a flurry of controversy in the Italian Catholic blogosphere this week, after its Facebook page defended Joe Biden’s support of legal abortion.
The Pontifical Theological Institute’s Facebook page reposted an article published on Jan. 20 in the Italian edition of the Huffington Post, titled “Joe Biden, a Catholic at the White House among the poisons of the American Church.”
The article emphasized what it calls Joe Biden's “Social Gospel” and presented a series of declarations by political scientists and theologians to support the theory that Biden's election is complementary to Pope Francis' election because both of them give a sort of new breath to Catholic social teaching.
The Facebook post drew significant criticism, which is not uncommon.
Unusual, however, was the response of the Pontifical Theological Institute's account to some of these critical comments.
Some readers questioned why the Institute was praising Biden, who is a strong supporter of legal abortion, in sharp contrast with Catholic teaching.
In response, the Pontifical Theological Institute profile said that “defending the right to abortion does not mean defending abortion.”
The Institute's profile added that “above all, if we have to assign Catholicity licenses based on the political positions, very few politicians could describe themselves as Catholic.”
The statement is openly in contrast with the social teaching of the Church, and in particular with John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
John Paul II stressed that “to claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”
The post generated a lively debate, and the Pontifical Theological Institute eventually removed the post and associated discussion. However, the screenshot of the post has continued to spread and attract widespread attention.
The social media controversy is not the first of its kind.
In June, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, chancellor of the Pontifical Theological Institute and president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, re-tweeted a post by the Institute featuring the poster of the film “Casomai,” by the Italian director Alessandro D'Alatri. The tweet sparked controversy, as the poster features nudity.
The tweet was later removed, although a statement on Archbishop Paglia’s personal webpage defended it, arguing that the nudity on the poster was not erotic.
The statement also clarified that Paglia does not manage or approve tweets before they are published.
“[A]ll the social network accounts linked to Vincenzo Paglia's name (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube, etc.) concern exclusively institutional activities and are managed by the Press Office of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute,” the statement said.
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This arrangement has not changed. Arnaldo Casali, the head of the Pontifical Institute's press office, controls and produces the social media content of the Institute’s pages. He also manages Archbishop Paglia’s website and Italian-language Twitter account.
Casali became friends with Paglia when the latter was Archbishop of Terni.
According to one of his official bios, Casali, 45, is a professional journalist whose main fields of interest are culture, arts, and religion. He is also the artistic director of the Terni Film Festival. He has no background in Vatican or Catholic issues.
A source within the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute, who spoke to CNA on the condition of anonymity, said the recent Facebook post was not part of a plot, but due to ignorance.
“The real issue is that Casali has no knowledge so far of the nature of the Pontifical Theological Institute, nor does he know how its stances can have an impact on the Catholic world, and can also affect Catholic teaching,” the source said.
The Pontifical Theological Institute is still viewed with scrutiny by some following a 2019 controversy surrounding new statutes for the Institute. The new statutes came in response to a 2017 announcement that Pope Francis would legally refound the Institute, and broaden its academic curriculum, from a focus on the theology of marriage and the family to an approach that will also include the study of the family from the perspective of the social sciences.
Students, alumni, and faculty raised concerns about the role of faculty members in the institute’s new governing structure, about the reduction of theology courses and the elimination of some theology disciplines, and about the dismissal of some faculty members.