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New papal document seeks ‘paradigm shift’ at ecclesiastical universities

January 29, 2018

Pope Francis has called for a "radical paradigm shift" and a "bold cultural revolution" at ecclesiastical universities, in a new apostolic constitution issued on January 29.

The new 87-page document, entitled Veritatis Gaudium ("The Joy of Truth") replaces the apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana, issued by St. John Paul II in 1979. Pope Francis writes that the older document "urgently needs to be brought up to date" in light of changes in society and in academic life.

(The new papal document applies specifically to universities and other academic institutions that offer degrees and courses of study approved by the Holy See. It does not apply directly to most Catholic colleges and universities, which remain governed by the norms of the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.)

In Veritatis Gaudium the Pontiff stresses that ecclesiastical faculties serve the primary need of the Church today, which is "for the People of God to be ready to embark upon a new stage of 'Spirit-filled' evangelization." He writes that this challenge requires "a resolute process of discernment, purification, and reform."

The need for a new approach is clear, the Pope writes, in light of "a true epochal shift" in society, made evident in "a wide-ranging anthropological and environmental crisis." He continues:

Indeed, we daily see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises. In a word, this calls for changing the models of global development"and redefining our notion of progress. Yet the problem is that we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths.

To guide the new approach to learning at ecclesiastical institutions, Pope Francis offers four criteria:

  1. the presentation of "the ever fresh and attractive good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ;"
  2. a dedication to "wide-ranging dialogue" and the "culture of encounter;"
  3. a commitment to inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches to study; and
  4. an emphasis on "networking" with other institutions to promote studies of mutual interest.

Veritatis Gaudium includes new norms for the direction of ecclesiastical faculties, which are to be implemented by national bishops' conferences under the guidance of the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education. The norms call for a concentration on magisterial texts, with a special emphasis on the documents of Vatican II. Teachers, the Pope says, must be "conscious of their duty to carry out their work in full communion with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, above all, with that of the Roman Pontiff."

The new norms will take effect with the opening of the academic year 2018-2019. Each pontifical faculty is required to bring its own statutes and curriculum into conformity with the new apostolic constitution, and submit the revised plans to the Congregation for Catholic Education before December 8, 2019.


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  • Posted by: johnmaria6985 - Feb. 07, 2018 9:39 AM ET USA

    Back in the good old days of the 1990's, use of terms like "paradigm shift" were generally an indication of New Age-infected ideology. God only knows what they mean now.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Jan. 30, 2018 11:23 PM ET USA

    “…in full communion with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, above all, with that of the Roman Pontiff." But what happens when the Roman Pontiff is not in accord with the authentic Magisterium? Where then must Catholics place their highest allegiance? From that phrase “above all,” I’d say there’s little doubt how this most humble of Roman Pontiffs would answer.

  • Posted by: ILM - Jan. 29, 2018 9:52 PM ET USA

    I am still alive, but I feel that I have died and am in purgatory.