Paglia says beyond apologies for past, Church must build new future

ROME – In the wake of revelations surrounding scandals involving ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and accusations by a former Vatican ambassador that Pope Francis and other curial officials knew and said nothing, a leading Italian prelate has said it’s important to build a new future rather than getting stuck in the past.

“Certainly it’s a difficult moment, we must look forward, not behind,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life and for the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, said in a brief interview with Crux.

Paglia, who spoke at the Nov. 5 inauguration of the new academic year for the institute, was one of several Vatican officials named in an Aug. 25 letter published by former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who accused Paglia and others of belonging to a “homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality” inside the Roman Curia.

Viganò also charged that several fellow prelates in the Vatican knew about allegations of misconduct against McCarrick, who has been faulted for sexual misconduct with seminarians and who was credibly accused of abusing a minor over the summer, yet McCarrick’s career advanced regardless.

With the statement having been published shortly before the launch of the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment, Paglia, though he did not address Viganò’s accusations against him, said the synod discussion “thanks be to God gave new topics, new ideas, new horizons.”

It’s important to ask for forgiveness for past sins, as Saint John Paul II did in 2000 when he issued a litany of apologies for Church failures, Paglia said, but cautioned that “the problem today is announcing a new humanity which prevents the errors of the past.”

The response to past failures and sins is “not to cry for the past, but it’s a new horizon,” he said, adding that the final synod document, while not offering any concrete proposals, helps to put this new horizon forward.

Paglia spoke alongside the institute’s president, Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri, who outlined new initiatives and collaborations it’s pursuing, and Father Piero Coda, headmaster of the Saint Sophia Institute and a professor of theology, who spoke about the complementarity between men and women, specifically when it comes to God’s plan for marriage and the family, saying at one point that the discussion must focus on “men and women together, not just men who talk about women.”

In his speech during the event, Paglia spoke of the recent synod discussion, saying he was invited per the pope’s request since the topics the institute deals with directly impact many young people, including issues related to sexuality, the body and the concept of gender.

The goal of the gathering, he said, was to listen to young people “without filters,” taking time to hear their thoughts and concerns about life and the faith. He also stressed the importance of collaboration between academic institutions, which he said ought to be carried out in a spirit of “synodality.”

Two such collaborations that were announced at the inauguration ceremony were a new international research center for cultural anthropology, and a joint practical and interdisciplinary study of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse between the John Paul II institute and the psychology department of the Pontifical Gregorian University, which is directed by Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Collaboration between institutes, Catholic, non-Catholic and secular, was a request made as part of the shake-up of the institute when Francis in September 2017 effectively re-established the institute largely on the grounds that the old curriculum, based on John Paul II’s 1981 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, was outdated.

In his comments to Crux, Paglia said the emphasis placed on synodality in the synod’s concluding document can be a solution to the increasing fragmentation of global society, including within the Church.

This fragmentation, exacerbated by the publication of Viganò’s statement, is “an impediment to finding an adequate solution” to the polemics in both secular and ecclesial culture, he said.

It is especially important to involve young people in the discussion, he said, stressing that they are not just “an object of pastoral attention,” but rather, “they are churches in the full sense,” and must be active in the discussion.

Noting how many people were critical of the synod’s final document, arguing that it did not provide adequate solutions to major questions young people face on issues related to sexuality, the body and gender, all of which are topics the institute deals with on a daily basis, Paglia said the text was limited in its scope, and as the summary of a discussion, it could not be something that “deals with complex, multifaceted topics regarding the question of the body and sexuality.”

“There is no doubt that the final synod document offers a very rich horizon, because the universities and institutes, for example, the John Paul II Institute, will undertake other paths for reflection, they will deepen in both scripture and human sciences to offer responses that are understandable to everyone,” he said.

By pursuing these studies, academics will help to develop a new language making it easier for people to spread the Christian message in a way that is understandable, Paglia said, adding that with a rapid increase in globalization, “new anthropological changes must be reflected on and studied.”

Synodality, he said, brings to the fore “a relationship of a virtuous circle between pastors, students and professors, research institutes, pastoral structures in the diocese,” who are all searching for a way to dialogue and develop “a new vision for a new pastoral (approach).”

Collaboration among universities and institutes will help this process move forward, he said, and, pointing to the John Paul II institute’s new collaboration with the Gregorian University on child safety, said the program is an example of how synodality can be put into practice.

Studies on the weakness and responsibilities of Church leaders often result in accommodations being made that are “too easy,” he said, adding that a real, critical approach “requires a deepening of conscience and intelligence.”

“This is why between university institutions, in this case the John Paul II and the Gregorian, have treated these two perspectives,” he said, adding that “it’s good that we do it together.”