Pontifical Gregorian University

Pope Francis on Too Many Ecclesiastical Universities in Rome and the Challenge of What to Do About It

What the Pope said at the beginning of 2024 is not something new. It’s a subject that is on his mind. He mentioned it also an address on February 25, 2023, to the academic communities of the Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions.

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 15.01.2024).- “I take advantage of the occasion to say that there are too may Ecclesiastical Universities in Rome. They must come to an agreement and achieve some form of unity: unity in study plans . . . Come to an agreement, talk,” said the Holy Father at the start of 2024. He said this specifically as part of an address to one of those “too many Ecclesiastical Universities: the Studium Biblicum Fanciscanum, which depends on the Pontifical University Antonianum of Rome.

According to the most recent Report of the Conference of Rectors of Pontifical Roman Universities and Institutions (CRUIPRO), there are 22 higher level Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions in the city of Rome. During the 2021-2022  period there was a  total of 16,000 students (specifically 15,644, but we rounded off the figure): an average of 727 students per University, although coming down to details the reality reflects something less homogenous.

The Gregorian University has the most students (2,844), and the John Paul II the least (154). Among them these results appear: Angelicum, 1,077; Urban, 1,357; Lateran , 1,868; Antonianum, 525; Salesian, 1,780; Holy Cross, 1,334; Saint Anselm, 844; Regina Apostolorum, 1,500; Seraphicum, 134; Teresianum, 381; Marianum, 107; Auxilium, 365; Biblical, 305; Sacred Music, 155; Oriental, 300; Christian Archaeology, 30; Arabic and Islamic Studies, 333;  Alfonsianum, 260; Augustinianum, 127; and Claretianum , 145.

What the Pope said at the beginning of 2024 is not something new. It’s a subject that is on his mind. In an address on February 25, 2023, to the academic communities of the Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions, he said:

In the custody of inner harmony, I invite you to “make a chorus” also among the different components of your community, and among the different institutions you represent. Throughout the centuries, the generosity and breadth of vision of many Religious Orders, inspired by their charisms, have enriched Rome with a notable number of Faculties and Universities. However, today — due also to the smaller number of students and professors –, this multiplicity of study centers runs the risk of wasting valuable energies. Thus, instead of fostering the transmission of the evangelical joy of study, of teaching and of research, sometimes it threatens to slow it down and tire it. We must take note of it. Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s urgent to initiate a process that leads to an effective, stable and organic synergy among the academic institutions, to honour better the specific purposes of each one and to promote the universal mission of the Church, and not argue among ourselves to take a student, one hour more. Hence, I invite you not to settle for ephemeral solutions, and not to think of this process of growth simply as a ‘defensive’ action, geared to address the diminution of economic and human resources. Rather, it must be seen as an impulse towards the future, as an invitation to accept the challenges of a new era of history. Yours is a very rich heritage, which can promote new life, but which can also inhibit it, if it becomes to self-referential, if it becomes a museum piece. If you want it to have a fruitful future, its custody cannot be limited to keeping what has been received: it must open to brave and, if necessary, to unprecedented developments. It’s like a seed that, unless it falls into the earth of the concrete reality, remains alone and bears no fruit (cf. John 12:24). Therefore, I encourage you to initiate as soon as possible a confident process in this direction, with intelligence, prudence and boldness, always keeping present that the reality is more important than the idea (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 222-225). The Dicastery for Culture and Education — with my mandate –, will accompany you on this path.

To tell the truth, some of those Universities have already taken steps. In the Assembly of the Conference of Rectors of Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions (CRUIPRO) of last November 20, the agreement was renewed for a second triennium, so that the mobility of students is possible within the Roman Ecclesiastical University System. That agreement enables students of CRUIPRO University members to attend each semester for free one of the other signatory Universities, prior authorization from the institution of origin and acceptance of the institution of destiny.

It’s true that this is only that, a step. But it’s already a step. What is the problem then? Of course not that there are too many Ecclesiastical Universities but the non-correspondence of students asking for registration in one of them. Over the last years the Dicastery for the Clergy and the Dicastery for Catholic Education have promoted that, increasingly, there be fewer who come to Rome to study and, instead, that they be formed in their own local Seminaries. At bottom, it’s an idea of Pope Francis who has even mentioned that, to foster the sense of community, in some places the Seminaries should be regional: not of just one diocese but of several. This also contributes to having increasingly fewer seminarians coming to Rome and that, instead, those that arrive are priests who come for some post-graduate study.

Not a few of the Roman Ecclesiastical Universities responded to specific needs of the formation of the clergy in general in the course of history. However, the fact is not naïve that the majority of them served as centers for the formation of the members of the same promoting entities. For this moment — with the internal vocational reality of each Congregation or Order that is behind it (to which is added the broader one of the Church) –, the maintenance of an Ecclesiastical University System such as the present one, does not seem sustainable in the medium term.

For the entities behind every University the maintenance of the institution implies annual investments of sums greater than six zeros and in euros. One of the offices with more annual work in a University isn’t the academic but the search for funds. However, to that call to “achieve some form of unity,” launched by the Pope, who will cede first and on what basis?

One University will adduce its history, another will place before all the amount of students it has, another its financial health, yet another the quality of its professors and one will even mention its specificity . . . On what basis is the modification decided? And if it were the students that decided? Or the Bishops? An African Bishop would opt for his seminarians to be formed in a specific University whose formation doesn’t coincide with the pastoral sensibility of the place of origin. That today there are more students in some Universities is not due to the Bishops being able to choose at all, but that it’s only there that they can get some scholarships.

Or let’s see it for the students: perhaps these would value better the pedagogy of the teaching, the inclusion of technologies, the integral formation . . .  And if it were the professors that contribute to the decision? Something so elemental and of particular interest for them: and where would they be in that reorganized future? Would there be professors left over? And from where, exactly?  Even more: those that are priests and professors  — would they cease to teach? What would they do now? It’s not an easy practical decision given that many of them have dedicated their life in this field.

And if it were for specialization? It’s true, there are very specific Faculties that are only in one University (institutional communication in the Holy Cross, bioethics in the Regina Apostolorum, Sacred Music in the homonymous School, etc.) but, what about the other Faculties? This becomes even more dramatic if one considers that the Gregorian’s School of Canon Law is not the same as that of the Holy Cross, or of the Lateran . . .  and that applies also to the Theology of the Angelicum as to the School of Theology of the other Universities.

As can be seen, the challenge in this area does not seem to have a short-term solution. But it is something important and relevant. The vocational reality, that of the economy, the optimization of human resources and also joint work are on the horizon. It’s so much so that the Pope has it in mind and from there it’s not difficult that it could become, in the medium term, a new Motu proprio.

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Jorge Enrique Mújica

Licenciado en filosofía por el Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, de Roma, y “veterano” colaborador de medios impresos y digitales sobre argumentos religiosos y de comunicación. En la cuenta de Twitter: https://twitter.com/web_pastor, habla de Dios e internet y Church and media: evangelidigitalización."

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