A new president has been appointed to the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Science: Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, at present rector of Paris’ famed Catholic University, L’Institut catholique de Paris, is a proponent of Amoris Laetitia, a critic of Humanae vitae, and a defender of a more welcoming approach to homosexual couples.
His impact of his nomination was presented in a nutshell in the English version of the unofficial daily of the French episcopate, La Croix International: “Mgr. Philippe Bordeyne has chosen to continue the reform of the institute the late Polish pope established in 1981 to promote traditional marriage and family life.”
“Reform” is the operative word: Over the last years, the John Paul II Institute formerly presided by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra — the now deceased signatory of the Dubia presented to Pope Francis after the publication of Amoris Laetitia — has been targeted by various changes that ranged from a modification of its name and the renovation of its statutes to the sudden suspension of all of its professors in 2019, those most representative of the John Paul II era having been dismissed altogether.
The “coup” against the traditional orientation of the John Paul II Institute was carried out under the direction of the Institute’s present Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (also known for the homoerotic painting he commissioned for his former cathedral in Terni). The overhaul aims to set aside the metaphysical approach of the original Institute in order to adopt a more practical and sociological point of view, pitting so-called “real issues” against “abstract idealism,” as La Croix put it.
Paglia confirmed the nomination of Msgr. Bordeyne, who specializes in moral theology, on Twitter last Monday. The nomination has yet to be officially proclaimed, but according to the Italian news agency ANSA, a “rescript” was sent on February 22 by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and its secretary Msgr. Vincenzo Zani. They also signed a letter thanking the current president of the Institute, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, 76, and presenting their best wishes to Msgr. Bordeyne.
Besides promoting the vision of Pope Francis on marriage and the Church’s moral teachings, as he has consistently done in his previous appointments, one of Bordeyne’s task will be to stem the Institute’s present decline. According to La Croix International, “Some courses are reported to have lost 90 percent of their students, while others have been cut due to insufficient numbers. Thus, the institute’s biggest challenge is to attract new students and boost enrollment.”
Philippe Bordeyne, 61, is expected to use his managerial skills. Before becoming a priest, he graduated from one of France’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, HEC Paris (Ecole des hautes études commerciales), and went on to teach in Cameroon for two years in a cooperation program. Once ordained, before entering his academic career, Bordeyne was tasked with the accompaniment of catechumens and with marriage preparation in the diocese of Nanterre, near Paris. He was a friend of Juan Carlos Scannone, a Jesuit priest known as an authorized presenter of the theology of Pope Francis (Scannone published a book about Francis’ “theology of the people” shortly before his death in 2019). Together, they penned a book titled, Divorcés remariés: ce qui change avec François (“Divorced and remarried: What has changed with Pope Francis”).
Bordeyne was a prominent character at the second Synod on the Family in 2015: He was appointed at the time by Pope Francis as one of the 23 “experts” who counseled and guided the discussions of the synodal fathers.
Philippe Bordeyne has indicated that he will move to Rome by August 31, several months after the opening of the “Year of Amoris Laetitia” on the feast of Saint Joseph, on March 19. His personal appreciation of that Apostolic Exhortation will certainly impregnate itself in the John Paul II Institute’s curriculum and orientations.
He has been vocal in the French press over the last years, supporting the “discernment” Pope Francis has called for regarding the “reintegration” of divorced and remarried Catholics. On April 9, 2014, Bordeyne told La Vie:
In the case of access to the sacraments for remarried divorcees, [the Pope] takes up the notion of discernment, already known in the Church’s pastoral ministry and already mentioned at the Synod, while specifying it. During the Synod, there was some hesitation about naming this spiritual journey a “penitential path,” for example. The Pope finally spoke of “personal and pastoral discernment” and specified the framework: For the discernment to be well conducted, the faithful must not be alone, whatever their situation, they must be accompanied by pastors or persons assigned to do so. The Pope also specifies what “integration” in the Church means. The discernment carried out must indeed lead to something concrete: to allow the person to find his rightful place in the Church. But this place is not indicated in advance: Access to communion will not necessarily be the appropriate response to the person’s journey and to his or her objective situation. It may be a commitment to the poorest or another ecclesial commitment, such as catechesis.
The Pope above all asks pastors to welcome the persons involved, to be sensitive to their sorrows, their sufferings, their need for integration into the Church. The final objective is that the faithful may find peace. The pope does not indicate a general process but gives a framework by drawing inspiration from the practice of discernment in the Church and by giving it the seal of his authority.
Some years later, Bordeyne was interviewed about Amoris Laetitia by Father Thomas Rosica, the now disgraced CEO of Salt and Light TV. Summing up his attitude to moral teaching, Bordeyne said: “The moral theologian is first and foremost a tinkerer” who looks at personal situations rather than moral ideals. What was the “new point” made by chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia about the divorced and remarried, particularly those who have children with their new partner, Rosica asked. Bordeyne answered:
We cannot ask people to achieve the impossible. We cannot ask people to separate, since that would be a new fault: We will be asking them to build the future with God. And so we ask them to evaluate the quality of their new union.
The “discernment” that could lead these people to be readmitted to the sacraments of penance and Holy Communion, he added, should not take place just after remarriage, he said, crediting Pope Francis with this wise disposition: only “when things have been settled in time.”
“People can have regrets” about divorce and remarriage, he said:
The realism of Francis, the realism of the Christian, is to look at what God is doing in our lives so that, while the irreversible exists, we can still continue to move forward. … The Pope says that in the personal and pastoral discernment of these people, they must first look at what they are doing today to respond to God’s calls. Not the impossible calls of God! Not to calls of God to remain faithful to the first union: It was dead for twenty years! But to God’s calls today.
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 some point.