With new Apostolic Constitution, Pope reforms Catholic higher education
By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis has issued a new Apostolic Constitution, Veritatis gaudium, revising the norms governing Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties – that is, institutions granting pontifical degrees in fields such as theology, philosophy, and canon law, as well as numerous other disciplines.
Updating Sapientia christiana
The new document updates the previous Apostolic Constitution, Sapientia christiana, issued in 1979 in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Since its promulgation, Sapientia christiana has been amended three times, and other normative texts have been published, including the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
In addition, the Holy See has entered into various agreements concerning higher education and the awarding of academic degrees. The work of producing a new Apostolic Constitution which takes account of these changes was entrusted by Pope Francis to the Congregation for Catholic Education.
In a press conference introducing Veritatis gaudium, the Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, said that the Holy Father had encouraged their work in an address on 13 February 2014: “The 50th anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration [Gravissimum Educationis], the 25th anniversary of Ex corde Ecclesiae and the updating of Sapientia christiana, lead us to reflect seriously on the many formational institutions around the world and on their duty to be an expression of a living presence of the Gospel in the field of education, of science and of culture.”
Cardinal Versaldi said Pope Francis made the decision to issue a new Apostolic Constitution after being presented with the revision of Sapientia christiana. The new Constitution, he said, indicates the meaning and the basic criteria for a renewal and a revival of ecclesiastical studies, especially in light of the “missionary” orientation of the Church, as described in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.
Following Cardinal Versaldi’s presentation at the press conference, the Secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani highlighted some of the most important innovations in the Veritatis gaudium. In particular, he mentioned the significance of bringing all ecclesiastical universities and faculties into line with the Holy See’s Agency for the Evaluation and Promotion of Quality in Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties (AVEPRO). Archbishop Zani also noted the guidelines governing relations between ecclesiastical academic institutions and their civil counterparts.
Notably, Archishop Zani said Veritatis gaudium makes provisions for “distance learning,” the possibilities for which have increased significantly since the publication of Sapientia christiana. The new Constitution also includes regulations concerning migrants and refugees, requiring ecclesiastical institutions to adopt procedures to provide for those who may not possess the required documentation for admittance.
The full text of the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis gaudium can be found on the Vatican website.