Indian Jesuit elevated in Pontifical Oriental Institute shakeup

Rome (Matters India): An Indian Jesuit is among three priests appointed to lead the Pontifical Oriental Institute for an interim period after an unprecedented shakeup.

Jesuit superior general Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón appointed Father Sunny Thomas Kokkaravalayil as one of two pro-deans to assist the new pro-rector of the 99-year-old institute, reported on Tuesday.

Exactly a week earlier, the general had decommissioned the institute’s rector, vice-rector, and two deans and brought in Fr Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian, as the new provisory regent.

The ousted are Rector Fr James McCann, Vice-rector Fr Massimo Pampaloni, and the deans of the faculties of ecclesiastical sciences and Eastern canon law, Fathers Philippe Luisier and Michael Kuchera, all Jesuits.

The general then called in F. Samir Khalil Samir, 77, to manage the institute temporarily, with the title of “ad interim” pro-rector. Fr Samir is a prominent Orientalist and Islamologue, formerly a professor at the Université Saint-Joseph of Beirut and at other universities of Europe and America.

The general also appointed Frs. Edward G. Farrugia and Kokkaravalayil as the new pro-deans.

Fr Kokkaravalayil, 51, is currently the superior of the Jesuit Community at the same institute. Earlier, the member of Kerala Jesuit province was acting rector of the Institute. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1989 and was ordained a priest in 1998.

He teaches Eastern Canon Law at Institute. He also teaches Juridical Sources of the Syro-Malabar Church, History of the Codification of Eastern Canon Law, Philosophy of Law, Theology of Law and Juridical Method.

Pope Benedict XV set up the Pontifical Oriental Institute in 1917 together with the congregation for the Oriental Churches, whose prefect – currently the Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri – is also its grand chancellor.

In 1922, Pius XI entrusted the institute to the Society of Jesus, reserving the appointment of the rector for the pope, at the independent suggestion of the superior general after consulting the Jesuit professors.

The order of decommissioning, signed by the superior general, who is also the deputy grand chancellor of the institute, was up on the bulletin board for one day.

The order was put into effect immediately, without waiting for the beginning of the new academic year. In the letter, the superior general denounced the “uncharitable” spirit that has split the teaching community, with grave harm to the institute’s mission.

In recent months the deans and some professors of the institute had asked for the removal of the rector, alleging that he was incapable of steering the academic apparatus. The general sent an inspector, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University and a great canonist, who recommended a clean sweep of the executive staff.

The institute also allegedly failed to fulfill its primary task of service to the Church, at a time of the grave crisis in the Muslim and Christian East, from Syria to Ukraine.

It has reportedly entrusted many subjects professors on temporary leave from other universities who teach in a few weeks what should last a whole semester.

What shocked the Rome circles was the defection of one of the institute’s former vice-rectors, Costantin Simon, an American of Ukrainian-Hungarian origin and a specialist on Russian Christianity. Simon not only left the Jesuits and the Catholic Church, but joined the Russian Orthodox Church as a priest on June 7, 2014. He was then appointed rector of the theological academy of Saint Petersburg.

The 1928 encyclical “Rerum Orientalium” encouraged bishops to send students to the Institute to be formed as future professors in Oriental studies. In the same year, Pope Pius XI associated the Institute with the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Biblical Institute, thus forming the Gregorian Consortium.

In 1971, the Faculty of Oriental Canon Law was erected alongside the already existing Faculty of Oriental Ecclesiastical Studies. The Faculty of Oriental Canon Law played a crucial role in producing the Code of Canon Law for the Oriental Churches.

The Institute maintains an important library of Christian oriental literature. One special holding is a rare collection of Old Slavonic manuscripts.

The Institute has been located across from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore since 1926. It is separated from the Collegium Russicum by the Church of Saint Antony.

According to article 16 of the Lateran Treaty, signed in 1929 between Italy and the Holy See, the property of the Oriental Institute enjoys a certain level of extraterritoriality, with the Holy See having all rights over the infrastructure without interference from the Italian State, and free from all Italian taxation.

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