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‘The pope’s university’ gets a new rector

Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, where the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences is located. / calu777/flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Rome Newsroom, Aug 1, 2023 / 13:02 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed an Italian moral theologian to head the Pontifical Lateran University, an influential Roman institute known as “the pope’s university,” which has incorporated many of the current pontiff’s priorities into its curriculum.

But that’s not the only change at the Lateran. The new rector, Archbishop Alfonso V. Amarante, will also be aided by a papally appointed management director, a new post at the Lateran.

The appointment of Amarante, a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists), to serve as the Lateran’s new rector, was announced by the Vatican on Tuesday, the feast day of the Redemptorist order’s founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori. On the same day, the Vatican announced that the pope had picked the Lateran’s current rector, Vincenzo Buonomo, to serve as the general councilor of the Vatican City.

In a letter to Amarante accompanying the announcement, the pope said he was assigning the moral theologian to a “tiring and hopeful assignment.” The pope tasked Amarante with continuing to make the Lateran University “more robust and agile” in order to aid in its mission of proclaiming the truth and joy of the Gospel “in the historical, ecclesial, and cultural season in which the Lord has called us to live,” and underscoring the university’s “special closeness to the successor of Peter.”

The pope also explained that the management director would focus on moving forward “a development plan that makes the Lateran University a protagonist of the ecclesiastical and civil university system.” The pope announced the appointment of six new members to the Superior Coordination Council, a body created in 2021 to better “institutionally express the peculiar link between the Lateran University and the Apostolic See.”

Simultaneous with his appointment as rector, Amarante was named an archbishop and assigned to the titular see of Sorres.

The Redemptorist prelate was born in 1970 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1997. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and did advanced studies in moral theology at the Alphonsin Academy. Amarante has held numerous roles with the Redemptorists and in academic theology, most recently serving as the dean of the Alphonsian Academy, as the secretary of the conference of Roman pontifical universities, and as a visiting member of a Holy See initiative monitoring ecclesiastical universities and faculties.

The pope’s university’ 

Founded in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV after his suppression of the Jesuits and entrusted at the time to the secular clergy of the Diocese of Rome, the Lateran university has long been closely tied to the bishop of Rome. That relationship has perhaps intensified during Pope Francis’ reign, as the pope has chosen the Lateran to serve as something of a launchpad for academic projects attached to his top priorities.

In 2018, the pope established a curriculum in “Sciences of Peace” at the Lateran in order to aid the Church in becoming a “credible mediator” for peace. In 2021, the Lateran launched a degree program on ecology and environment titled “Care for our common home and protection of creation,” inspired by Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the same theme.

Perhaps most controversially, Pope Francis changed the name and mission of the Lateran University’s John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. In 2017, the institution, founded by St. John Paul II in 1981, was rebranded the John Paul II Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and the Family. In 2019, new statutes were approved that effectively shifted the school’s program from moral theology to a more science-based focus. More than 150 students and alumni protested the new statutes.

The pope’s 2018 appointment of Buonomo as the Lateran’s first-ever lay rector was also indicative of the university’s significance as a place for promoting papal priorities, as downplaying the link between ordination and Church leadership has been a theme of Francis’ pontificate.

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