(Rome) There is an earthquake in the Pontifical Oriental Institute (Pontifical Institutum Studiorum Orientalium) in Rome, which is run by the Jesuit Order. Jesuit General Adolfo Nicolas deposed the Rector, the Vice Rector and the two Deans, effectively the entire leadership. The new Provisional rector was the renowned Islamic scholar and orientalist Samir Khalil Samir, who is also a member of the Jesuit Order.
The Death of Lanfranco Rossi
Last week the Pontifical Oriental Institute (PIO) mourned the death of Lanfranco Rossi, who was a visiting professor on Oriental Spirituality. The 60 year-old priest, who also taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University, was found dead in a field not far from Rome, close to a nearby religious community whose spiritual director he was. According to media reports, the investigators are certain after the autopsy that the priest was murdered. The corpse has stab wounds to the head and strangulation marks on the neck. Rossi had been strangled and left dying by his perpetrators. The Superior of the religious Community "I ricostruttori nella preghiera", however, emphasized in the official press statements that Rossi had died a natural death. [!] Investigations have been entrusted to a special squad of the Carabinieri.
In the room of the deceased, three skulls were found. The investigators concluded a satanic motive from this. The skulls had been, according to the Order, "relics". Critics speak of controversial prayer practices of non-Christian traditions. Murder in the course of a robbery is expressly excluded as a motive in this case. The community, to which Rossi belonged, lives in absolute poverty.
The Community of "Rebuilding in Prayer"
Rossi, a priest of the Diocese of La Spezia, belonged to the community of "Ricostruttori nella preghiera" ( Rebuilding in Prayer). The community was founded in the early 80s by the Jesuit Gian Vittorio Cappelletto (1928-2009), who was inspired in the 70s by an encounter with an Indian guru about eastern forms of life. Cappelletto wanted to lead people who had turned away from the faith, back to prayer. Community members sleep on the floor, eat only vegetarian, shave neither beard nor hair and pray at night in cemeteries.
The mixture of oriental spiritual forms from alien religious "masters" and Christian spirituality is not without controversy. The Community has been accused of having "syncretic" and "neo-Gnostic" elements. In the meditation courses with a five-point "knowledge extension" are elements of yoga and include the Ananda Marga doctrine. Father Cappelletto was sponsored by the Society of Jesus and they asked him to make the convent's facilities available for its new forms of meditation, the so-called "deep meditation."
The community, which consists of men and women living in common, was canonically approved by the Bishop of La Spezia. In 1989, the first two priests were ordained. Today, it has 27 priests, seminarians and twelve postulants, about 100 devotees and a wider group of several hundred laymen.
Jesuit General Dismisses the Entire Management of the Oriental Institute
Quite apart from the murder case, far larger earthquakes shattered the meditative peace of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. In fact, the entire senior management of the Institute was dismissed by the Superior General of the Jesuits.
The dismissal decree, signed by General Adolfo Nicolás Pachón Provost, Vice Chancellor of the Institute, was only posted for a day on the bulletin board of the Institute.
Since Tuesday, April 14, Rector James McCann, Vice Rector Massimo Pampaloni and the Deans of the two faculties of Oriental Studies and Oriental Church Canon Law, Philippe Luisier and Michael Kuchera, all members of the Jesuit Order, are relieved of their duties.
Samir Khalil Samir New Interim Rector of the Institute
For the time being of the 77-year-old Orientalist and scholar of Islam Sami Khalil Samir Father is an interim lead the institute with the rank of pro-rector. Originally from Egypt, the Jesuit enjoys worldwide reputation. He has taught at the Saint Joseph University of Beirut and many universities in Europe and the United States.
The two faculties are being provisionally conducted with the rank of pro-deans by Father Edward Farrugia and Father Sunny Thomas Kokkaravalayil. Farrugia is Professor of Oriental and Patristic Dogmatics. Kokkaravalayil is an associate professor of legal doctrine and legal methodology, legal theology, Malabarite law and Chaldean law.
The dismissal decree entered into force with immediate effect before the start of the new academic year forthcoming in the fall. In a letter accompanying the decree, the Superior General blamed the "loveless" Spirit which had demoralized the faculty with serious consequences for the mission of the institution.
"Loveless" Climate or Incompetence?
The Pontifical Oriental Institute founded in 1917 by Pope Benedict XV. together with the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation is the Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Grand Chancellor of the Institute.
In 1922 Pope Pius XI. made it an Institute of the Jesuit Order. The appointment of the director is subject to the Pope on a proposal from the Jesuit General, after consultation with the Jesuit faculty.
In recent months, some of the deans and professors had called for the dismissal of the rector. A native of the US, Jesuit McCann was accused of inability to conduct an academic operation. Jesuit General Nicolas sent an inspector with Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda. Father Ghirlanda is a former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University and canon law expert. The result of this inspection was the removal of the entire senior management of the Institute.
"That Father McCann enjoyed no special appreciation in the Vatican, one could imagine already on 19 February 2014 when Pope Francis, appointed Vice-Rector Pampaloni and deans Luisier and Kuchera to consult the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, but not him, the incumbent Rector: an all the more pressing humiliation as the secretary of the Congregation was and is his brother in the Jesuit order, the Slovak Archbishop of the Greek rite, Archbishop Cyril Vasil."
Decline of the Institute?
That something was amiss at the Institute was at least publicly known since the retirement of the American liturgist, Father Robert Taft, on 15 December 2011. The Laudatio for Father Taft was held by Stefano Parenti, Professor of Oriental liturgies at the St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum and students of Taft. Parenti is currently working with Taft in the publication of a monumental history of the Byzantine Liturgy in several volumes.
The Laudatio was published in the journal Studi sull'Oriente Cristiano. Parenti said at the time: "Unlike today, the Pontifical Oriental Institute was until the end of the 80s of the 20th century a superb place for the study of Oriental liturgies, especially the Byzantine liturgy. Who undertake the burden in the future to write the history of the Institute, will know who is responsible for that which led to such a spectacular debacle in a massacre that outsiders observed from a distance, and revealed a desolate arena without winners and losers."
"We find ourselves in what is described in politics as a 'systematic error', which has long been known, but was ignored by those who were supposed to be vigilant. Added to this is the uncertainty of many contracts and singular recruitment and promotion procedures for doctorates, which is why there are full professors who had remained only assistants in good state European or American universities in the best of cases until retirement. "
Harried Eastern Christians - Bangert Institute
In fact, "a glance at the list of the faculty," said Sandro Magister, there can be seen the precarious situation of fixed-term contracts to teaching assignments. Many teachers teach at other universities and are only briefly committed by the Institute to complete a program with the students within a few weeks, for which at other universities an entire semester is scheduled.
"Above all, however, it is striking that the Institute, particularly in a time in which the Oriental Christianity located in the Middle East, North Africa, but also in Ukraine is in an acutely deep crisis and hard pressed, has very little to say. Its expert advice, in-depth specialist studies and reports would not only be of special importance "for the local Christian communities, but also for the Holy See," says Magister.
Vice Rector Converted to the Russian Orthodox Church
Last year, the Institute was rocked by a spectacular departure. Former Vice-Rector (until 2013), the American Jesuit of Ukrainian-Hungarian descent, Father Constantin Simon, a specialist in Russian Christianity, turned his back on the Jesuit Order and the Catholic Church. On June 7, 2014 he was officially incorporated as a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. The initiation liturgy was led by Archimandrite Amwrosi of Peterhof, the Russian Orthodox Auxiliary Bishop of St. Petersburg, and Rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy of the Moscow Patriarchate.
"Some see in the earthquake of these days only the prelude to a temporary closure of the Institute for the purposes of a radical restructuring," said Sandro Magister.
Text: Settimo Cielo / Giuseppe Nardi
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org