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A lesson at the Pontifical Urbaniana University on 29 September 2020 A lesson at the Pontifical Urbaniana University on 29 September 2020 

Vatican issues new instructions for ecclesiastical institutes of higher learning

New Instructions from the Congregation for Catholic Education are intended to “meet today’s challenges” and ensure ecclesiastical institutions are in line with the “new missionary spirit” of the Church.

By Benedetta Capelli

The Congregation for Catholic Education has issued new norms for higher educational institutions, regulating their aggregation, incorporation, and affiliation.

The three new Instructions published by the Congregation are intended to help ecclesiastical schools “meet today’s challenges and ensure that the system of ecclesiastical studies follows the Church’s drive for a new missionary spirit,” said Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation.

The three Instructions three years after the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis gaudium (on ecclesiastical universities and faculties) was promulgated by Pope Francis on 8 December 2017. The documents aim at responding to the need for “networking” among the varied situations of institutes of higher studies, in order to strengthen the missionary outreach of the Church. The documents note the “demanding task” these challenges present, “for the areas contemplated in ecclesiastical studies as well as for the institutions themselves.” The Instructions also hope “to provide both for the development of these Institutes and for their effective presence in various parts of the world”.

What’s new

The documents of the Congregation for Catholic Education focus on three key words: aggregation, incorporation, and affiliation of Institutes. They implement three important changes, all of which are subject to evaluation by the Congregation, which can approve requests through a decree valid for five years (ad quinquennium experimenti gratia) that can be renewed for another five years or possibly revoked. The Instructions will apply on the first day of the 2021-2022 academic year or the 2022 academic year, depending on the academic calendar in use in various parts of the world.

A Church that meets today’s challenges

In an interview for Vatican News, Archbishop Zani highlights what such changes mean for institutes of higher studies.

Archbishop Vincenzo Zani: We have over 500 ecclesiastical institutions, 120 are ecclesiastical faculties - theology, philosophy, canon law and other departments - and then we have around 400 affiliated, aggregated and incorporated institutes. What does this mean? It means that the ecclesiastical faculties have a program of studies that is similar to those found in non-ecclesiastical ones, that is, they are organized in three cycles of studies. The first cycle concludes with the baccalaureate degree; the second cycle with the licentiate degree; and the third cycle with the doctoral degree. So, we have the 120 faculties but around the world we have all the other institutions that are affiliated, aggregated or incorporated. Affiliated Institutes have only the first cycle; the aggregated Institutes can issue not only the baccalaureate degree, but also the licentiate; while the incorporated Institutes, which are very few and specialized, issue only a second or third cycle [degree]. These institutions are under the responsibility of the faculties, but having renewed the whole system of studies, we are gradually approving the rules also for the institutions that are connected with the faculties.

The novelty is that these norms had always been written in Latin, and today it is necessary to use all modern languages possible, as well as take into consideration the increase in quality of the institutions. These are very concrete guidelines that must be given concerning teachers, and the degrees they must have. Since the affiliated institutes are primarily major seminaries, the norms also make a distinction with regard to the formation of future priests and religious. Their formation comes under the Ratio Fundamentalis, which is the responsibility of the Congregation for Clergy.  We follow the studies and therefore give direction to the seminaries where it is considered better to keep the administrative side regarding seminary formation distinct from that regarding studies that instead refer to ecclesiastical faculties.

Networking: the underlying theme of Veritatis gaudium

Archbishop Zani: One of the principles has been to work together. “Networking” has two meanings: first, a better coordination of studies within the institution; and then the idea of “trans-disciplinarity,” where disciplines are not self-referential and proposed in isolated terms but rather in dialogue with each other. Then there is also the invitation to network in the sense of not multiplying unnecessary institutions, where there are already more specialized institutions. In this sense, the possibility of affiliations, aggregations and incorporations is very important in order to strengthen relations between institutions while clearly maintaining the autonomy of each institution. This networking is more evident in the Roman ecclesiastical reality, where we have different faculties of theology, philosophy and canon law. Therefore, avoiding duplication and instead enhancing the more specialized institutions is a work that we have been carrying out for years, and these tools will also help us to encourage this networking and raise the quality of specialization.

The future for higher educational institutions with regard to geographical differences

Archbishop Zani: Veritatis gaudium incorporates and offers an in-depth interpretation of Evangelii gaudium, in which the Pope speaks of “A Church going forth,” an totally missionary Church. This principle has also been incorporated into the new norms of ecclesiastical institutions, both in the missionary spirit, and understood as a way of being in deeper dialogue with today’s society, cultures, challenges that come from today’s world. So it is a Church that goes forth in this sense. Even the goals of ecclesiastical studies cannot be carried forward without recognizing the difficulties and challenges that come from today’s world.

On the other hand, the missionary dimension must also be understood in a geographical sense. Keep in mind that, for example, the Pontifical Urbaniana University, which is one among a number of Roman pontifical universities, has 110 affiliated institutes in Africa and Asia. This presents an extraordinary opportunity for working and networking together, also in collaboration with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. In this way and together with these institutions we hope to follow, to respond to the challenges of today in order to ensure that the system of ecclesiastical studies is not self-referential, but follows the thrust of the Church which is the new evangelization and missionary outreach.

09 December 2020, 21:22