Rome Today Isn’t What It Was

Thirty years ago, St. John Paul the Great launched two new pontifical academies, the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences (PASS) and the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV). It was the heady days of the 1990s, when the papal magisterium offered a bold defense of life and liberty according to Gospel principles.

The Cold War had been won, not least by a revolution of conscience in Poland. How then to envision the free society? How then to build a civilization of love in the face of the West’s spreading culture of death?

The breadth and depth of the encyclicals of the 1990s – Redemptoris missio (1990), Centesimus annus (1991), Veritatis splendor (1993), Evangelium vitae (1995), Ut unum sint (1995), Fides et ratio (1998) – were simply astonishing. The John Paul-Ratzinger partnership also produced, for good measure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). It was the single most impressive decade for the papal magisterium in the history of the Church.

Into that fervent intellectual ferment, John Paul wished to insert the two new academies, the better to inform the Church’s social teaching. The academies brought together leading scholars – Nobel laureates included – across disciplines so that the Church would have access to the best scholarship in reading the signs of the times in the social order. The scholar-pope, assisted by his scholar-prefect, saw the value of gathering leading scholars, not all of whom were Catholic or even Christian.

Rome today isn’t what it was in 1994. Two recent Roman conferences highlighted just that.

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