In another historic step to assign key positions in the Catholic church to lay people, Pope Francis has appointed a married layman, Vincenzo Buonomo, as the new rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
He is the first layperson ever to hold this important position in what John Paul II called “the pope’s athenaeum.” Some 3,000 seminarians, priests, women and men religious and lay students from 100 countries, including the United States, study at the university in Rome for degrees in theology, philosophy, civil and canon law.
The Vatican announced his appointment to lead the 245-year-old higher educational institution on June 2. He succeeds Archbishop Enrico dal Covolo, a Salesian, who served as rector of the Lateran University for the past eight years. Previous rectors include Cardinal Angelo Scola (1995-2002), the runner up in the 2013 conclave, and Archbishop Reno Fisichella (2002 -2010), president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.
He is the first layperson ever to hold this important position in what John Paul II called “the pope’s athenaeum.”
Professor Buonomo, 57, is a both a civil and canon lawyer and a specialist in international law. He is a professor at the Lateran University and also teaches future Holy See diplomats in the field of international law at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome. He has worked with the Holy See’s missions to various bodies at the United Nations since 1983 and has provided assistance to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Relations with States. He represents the Holy See at the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, and at the Advisory Committee of the U.N. Council of Human Rights. He is also a consultor at the Commission for Dialogue with Muslims at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Born in Gaeta, in the province of Latina, 91 miles from Rome, he is married and father to two children. He studied at the Lateran University, earning doctorates in both civil and canon law and began his teaching career there in 1984. In his time representing the Holy See’s mission to the United Nations, he has worked with a variety of organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Program. Pope Francis appointed him as a councillor of the Vatican City State in 2014.
The Lateran University was founded in 1773 by Clement XIV, after his suppression of the Jesuits. He then entrusted the faculties of theology and philosophy at the Roman College, which up to then were taught by the Jesuits, to the diocesan clergy of Rome. When the Jesuits were restored in 1824, the diocesan clergy continued to teach at what became the Pontifical Roman Seminary University and was eventually relocated to the Lateran Basilica. A pastoral institute was established there, and in 1959 John XXIII gave it the status of university, naming it the Pontifical Lateran University. In 1981, John Paul II founded the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the university. Pope Francis redesigned the institute’s mission in September 2017 and renamed it the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.
Today, the Lateran University is co-educational and has affiliations at more than 40 locations worldwide, reaching a student population of more than 5,000.