Sydney — Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, announced the closing of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, keeping it open until the end of 2018 for the benefit of existing students.
The archbishop sent a letter Oct. 26 to institute faculty and staff notifying them of the decision, citing low enrollment. The announcement stunned students.
In his letter, Hart said the institute's council had been concerned about the financial burden that low enrollment had placed on the Melbourne archdiocese.
"Much discussion has followed concerning the future of the institute," he said in the letter, which, soon after being issued, went viral on the internet and social media in Australian Catholic circles.
"After careful discussion at the meeting on 25 October 2016, the council resolved that the Melbourne session, out of responsibility to the faculty and students, will maintain the institute in operation until the end of 2018 so that students can complete their studies," the letter said.
"For any students who do not complete by that time, discussion will take place concerning referral to another institute.
"The members of council are very concerned for the welfare of all and have arranged that the executive of the institute will communicate with you further in November concerning any questions," Hart wrote.
The institute was founded by then-Archbishop George Pell in 2001 to "promote marriage and the family for the good of the whole church and the wider community, within the context of higher education in Australia and education in theology," according to its website.
The founding director was Dominican Fr. Anthony Fisher, who now is archbishop of Sydney.
The Australian institute is an affiliate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, founded by St. John Paul II following a recommendation of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family.
St. John Paul was to announce the establishment of the institute at his weekly general audience on May 13, 1981. The announcement was foiled by the Mehmet Ali Agca's assassination attempt on the pope.
Its constitution was instead given Oct. 7, 1982, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The Melbourne institute has been headed for more than a decade by Tracey Rowland, who, in 2014, was appointed by the Holy See to the 30-member International Theological Commission. At the time, she was one of five women commission members.
[Robert Hiini is a reporter for The Catholic Weekly, newspaper of the Sydney archdiocese.]