Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne has appointed Very Rev Dr Anthony Fisher OP as Director of the Melbourne Campus of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. Fr Fisher will take up his appointment on 1 July 2000 and begin preparing for the first intake of students to the Institute, scheduled for July 2001.
The Institute is part of a relatively recent worldwide trend to establish new centres of higher education directly linked to the Holy See. In the US, there are over a dozen Apostolic Catechetical Institutes which provide qualifications to teach religion in Catholic schools. Given the current problems associated with older Catholic universities, many US bishops have been encouraging greater utilisation of these newer Institutes, with their unequivocal commitment to Catholic orthodoxy.
At the recent Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, the following motion was proposed by the Bishops' Committee for the Family and for Life and unanimously adopted by the conference on 12 May:
"The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference shares the Holy Father's express desire to see a branch of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family established in Australia, to serve the needs of Church and society in our region of South East Asia and Oceania. The Conference wishes to convey to the Holy Father, the Chancellor of the Lateran University and the President of the Institute its support for the proposal that the Institute be established in Melbourne in the near future."
Next year, the John Paul II Institute is to offer courses for graduate certificates, diplomas, masters' degrees and PhDs, with ecclesiastical degrees to be added later.
The recently completed purpose-built facilities at Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, close by St Patrick's Cathedral and the archdiocesan offices, which include the Catholic Theological College, the Melbourne Archdiocesan Pastoral Formation Centre and the Mannix Library, will provide space for the new Institute. There is likely to be co- operation with the nearby Melbourne campuses of Australian Catholic University, recently relocated from the suburbs to the city centre near the Cathedral.
The Melbourne Archdiocese will guarantee finance for running the Institute for the next five years with fees to be equivalent to those of similar courses in Australian universities. It is hoped some dioceses in Australia and the South East Asia-Oceania region will sponsor students for study at the Institute.
Almost 20 years ago - in 1982 - the Holy Father founded the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, within the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, as a graduate institute of theology. The Holy Father conferred juridical recognition of it with his 1982 Apostolic Constitution, Magnum Matrimonii. The Institute's goals are to "promote the basic theological and pastoral study of marriage and family for the good of the whole Church."
There are already Institute campuses in Italy, Spain, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Benin and India, which offer postgraduate degree courses in philosophy, theology, the human sciences and pastoral care that are directed at understanding and promoting the Catholic view of the human person, marriage and family life, while being tailored to local regional needs.
In February 2000, the International President of the Institute, Bishop Angelo Schola, visited various parts of Australia to investigate the feasibility of establishing a campus of the Institute in this country. It followed the Pope's strongly expressed wish in this regard to meet the vast needs of the South East Asia-Oceania region.
The Melbourne Campus of the Institute, according to Archbishop Pell, could be expected to provide "high quality education and practical training in the theology and pastoral practice of marriage and the family for laity, priests and religious." This would include people working in marriage education, marriage counselling, family welfare, family planning, pro-life areas, Catholic school counselling, health care and welfare agencies, and parishes.
Overseas, many Institute graduates - especially in the US - are to be found in major leadership positions throughout the Church and society. The Institute, says Archbishop Pell, has also served as "a magnet for visiting international lecturers and distinguished guest speakers." And professors at the Washington DC campus have "already expressed a willingness to run some intensive courses for students in Australia" and be available to lecture elsewhere in the country at the invitation of local bishops.
Australia is fortunate in this regard that the Institute has had almost 20 years to prove itself at its overseas campuses, as well as develop a pool of highly qualified, orthodox lecturing personnel.
The newly appointed Director of the Melbourne Campus of the Institute, Fr Fisher, aged 40, is well- equipped for his important role. He is Episcopal Vicar for Health Care for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Master of Students at the Dominican House of Studies in East Camberwell, and a qualified solicitor and bioethicist, with degrees in history, law, philosophy and theology. In 1995 he graduated as Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University.