On March 19, 2021, the appointment of the new president of the John Paul II Institute was officially announced by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the John Paul II Institute.
It is Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, who will take up his post next September, following Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri.
Abp. Paglia affirmed that the new president will have the responsibility of making the Institute “even more universal,” because the theology of the family and all the research which is associated with it is “decisive for the Catholic Church, but also for other Christian churches, other religions, and for the humanist culture which needs careful and deeper academic reflection on the theme of family and life.”
Above all, Msgr. Bordeyne will have to work to halt the Institute’s current decline: according to La Croix International of March 19, “some courses have lost 90% of their students, while others have been canceled due to the insufficient number of students. Thus, the Institute’s biggest challenge is to attract new students and boost enrollment.”
It is certain that confidence does not reign within this institution whose statutes have been rewritten and whose teachers were suspended in 2019. A purge carried out by Msgr. Paglia and which, as Jeanne Smits wrote on her blog on March 11, aims “to put aside the metaphysical approach of the original Institute in order to adopt a more practical and sociological point of view, opposing ‘real questions’ to ‘abstract idealism,’ as La Croix International puts it.”
Msgr. Bordeyne is ideally suited to promote Pope Francis’s ideas on marriage; he is the author of a book entitled Divorcés remariés : ce qui change avec François [Divorced and Remarried: What Has Changed With Pope Francis] (Salvatore, 2017), co-written with Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone, Argentine Jesuit who died in 2019, a former professor of the pope and author of a book called La teología del pueblo: Raíces teológicas del papa Francisco [The Theology of the People: Theological Roots of Pope Francis].
Msgr. Bordeyne had an important role during the Second Synod on the Family in 2015: he was appointed by Francis among the 23 experts who advised the Synod Fathers and guided their discussions.
In an interview with La Croix on April 8, 2016, Philippe Bordeyne describes the Pope's vision of the family as follows: “His insistence on the social character of the person strikes me. Traditionally, the Church presents the family as ‘the basic unit of society,’ a rather abstract formula. Pope Francis shows concretely how it is a microcosm where everyone learns about life in society: through maternal tenderness, through the magnanimity of the father.”
“His formulas speak for themselves: ‘The mother who protects the child with affection and compassion, ...helps him to experience the world.” Society needs the family - which does not stop at the petty-bourgeois triangle of father, mother, and children (sic) - because it is the place where each individual grows up as a person in relationship. To despise different families would also be to despise this work of socialization.”- These “different families” are in fact marital unions: cohabitation, blended families, and same-sex couples with children.
In 2017, interviewed on Salt and Light TV, he presented his theological activity as follows: “The moral theologian is above all a handyman,” who looks at personal situations rather than ideals.
Regarding chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, about remarried divorcees, in particular those who have children with their new partner, Msgr. Bordeyne replies: “We cannot ask people for the impossible. We cannot ask people to separate, since that would be another fault. We are going to ask them to build the future with God. And so we ask them to assess the quality of this new union.”
And he adds: “The realism of Francis, the realism of the Christian, is to look at what God is doing in our life so that, while there is the irreversible, we can all the same continue to advance.”
“The Pope says: in the personal and pastoral discernment for these people, they must first look at what they are doing today to respond to the calls of God. Not to the impossible calls of God! Not to the calls of God to remain faithful to the first union: it has been twenty years since it died! But to the calls of God today.”
Jeanne Smits, who quotes this extract from the interview, comments very rightly: “Yes, the future president of what was once the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family is in substance saying that an indissoluble marriage can be held to be dead, and that the call of God to be faithful to one’s irreversible commitment, in His name, to one’s legitimate spouse, either does not exist or should not be listened to at a given moment.”
On the subject of the encyclical Humanae Vitae and the Church’s teaching on contraception, Msgr. Bordeyne is resolutely progressive. On Settimo Cielo, Sandro Magister published a note by Thibaud Collin, professor of philosophy at the Stanislas College in Paris and author of the book entitled Le mariage chretien a-il futur? [Does Christian Marriage Have a Future?] (Artège, 2018).
We can read this quote by Philippe Bordeyne taken from a text written on the occasion of the family synods of 2014 and 2015: “The encyclical Humanae vitae teaches that natural methods of controlling fertility are the only legitimate ones. However, it must be recognized that the distance between the practice of the faithful and the teaching of the magisterium has grown even wider. Is it simple deafness to the calls of the Spirit or is it the fruit of a work of discernment and responsibility in Christian couples subjected to the pressure of new ways of life?”
“The human sciences and the experience of couples teach us that the relationships between desire and pleasure are complex, eminently personal, and therefore variable according to the couples, and evolve over time and within the couple. Faced with the imperative moral duty to fight against the temptations of abortion, divorce, and the lack of generosity in the face of procreation, it would be reasonable to leave the discernment on birth control methods to the wisdom of couples, placing the emphasis on a moral and spiritual education that would make it possible to fight more effectively against temptations in a context that is often hostile to Christian anthropology.”
And further: “In this perspective, the Church could admit a plurality of paths for responding to the general call to maintain the openness of sexuality to transcendence and to the gift of life.… The way of natural methods that involves continence and chastity could be recommended as an evangelical counsel, practiced by Christian couples or not, that requires self-control in periodic abstinence.”
“The other way whose moral legitimacy could be admitted, with the choice entrusted to the wisdom of the spouses, would consist in using non-abortive methods of contraception. If the spouses decide to introduce this medicine into the intimacy of their sex life, they would be encouraged to double their mutual love. Only this latter is capable of humanizing the use of technology, at the service of a human ecology of procreation.” (Synod on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World: 26 Theologians Respond, Bayard, 2015, p. 197-198)
We can understand Thibaud Collin’s relevant suggestion at the end of his note: “The John Paul II Institute, in full hemorrhage of students, should for the sake of intellectual honesty change its name. It could be called, for example, the ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Institute.”