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ROME, July 30, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - Contraception, homosexual activity and Communion for divorced adulterers — all were endorsed and rationalized by speakers at a private conference held at a Jesuit university in Rome earlier this year. Presenters at the invitation-only conference, which suspicious critics are calling the "shadow council," or "shadow synod," also rejected the idea that any acts, such as artificial contraception or sodomy, should be called "intrinsically evil."
The apparent aim of the event, which was led by prominent German bishops, and also included bishops from France and Switzerland, was to prepare a highly sophistical heterodox agenda to be pushed at this fall's Synod on the Family. The conference included an exclusive list of theologians, as well as a select few journalists, to help promote dubious theological novelties. A total of 50 participants attended.
The secretive nature of the affair was clear by the silence from journalists following it. One participating journalist spoke of an agreed-upon confidentiality preventing them from revealing any details of the discussions.
Hardly anything was publicly known about what was said at the shadow council until just a couple of weeks ago, when the texts of the talks were published in German, Italian and French. The final address from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, was, however, conspicuously missing from the publications.
Now, news of the secret conference's talks is finally hitting the English-speaking media after an article by Andrea Gagliarducci for Catholic News Agency.
There were three parts for the agenda: Christ's words on marriage and divorce; "a theology of love," with sexuality considered insofar as it expresses love; and "a narrative theology" based on individual experience.
The conference's first part featured theologians Anne-Marie Pellettier and Thomas Soeding.
Pellettier attempted to spin Jesus' treatment of divorce in Matthew 19. "Catholic tradition on indissolubility," she argued, "is actually based on a disciplinary interpretation of this text, despite its kerygmatic content." In other words, "[T]he conjugal bond, in the terms in which Jesus expresses it, is strictly linked to the vocation of those who, with baptism, will be immersed in Christ's death and resurrection."
She proceeds to invoke Pope St. John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio — which emphatically rejected Communion for the "divorced and remarried" — to rationalize an exception to the Church's teaching on marriage as an indissoluble union.
"[T]he Paschal Mystery should not appear to have failed when Christian couples live a laceration," says Pellettier, adding that a new theological treatment is thus needed for baptized Christians who "undertake — for reasons inseparable from their stories, and always unique — a second union."
"The truth," according to her, "is that conjugal life is full of stumbling blocks, far more than those which are admitted by the theology of marriage."
Soeding then stressed that while marriage is indissoluble, the Synod on the Family being held in October should "develop, in fidelity to the will of Jesus, the doctrine, morality, and law of marriage." As she reasons, "The more clear and attractive the Christian model of marriage becomes, the sooner will it be possible to find ways for those persons who cannot celebrate such a marriage to be able to live within the Church as a happy couple."
Later, Eberhard Schokenhoff, professor of moral theology at the University of Freiburg, called for a "theology of love" based on a sociological analysis that borrows from such controversial thinkers as psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and sociologist Theodor Adorno, a self-professed Marxist and leading member of the infamous Frankfurt School of critical theory.
He noted how tough the Christian life can be in modern society and how "it should be admitted that love can indeed end."
"If two persons make the definitive decision of a common project of life, this does not mean they cannot review their choice," he maintains. "[T]he indissolubility of marriage is not a prescriptive aspect which is brought from outside; it is rather a request that spouses make to themselves, when they trust in their love."
Continuing in the trend of finding excuses for theological innovation, professor François-Javier Amherdt of Fribourg next inquired about "sexual relations that fall outside the marriage covenant."
His answer? "[A]ccording to the situation ... we must sound a word of call rather than of condemnation, according to a pastoral care of accompaniment." He argued that the relations between cohabiting couples cannot be "completely discredited" because in his view "their deficiencies ... in some cases are due to pressures of context and to the lack of references to the education of sentiments."
Another theologian, Eva-Maria Faber, wanted to focus not on the communal aspect of marriage, but on the married spouses as individuals. In her opinion, "it is deplorable that even the theology of marriage of the Church often does not permit sufficient attention given to the individuality of spouses in marriage."
And so, responding to her own call for this alleged need, she proposed a "biographical view of marriage, adapted to real situations and leading toward a corresponding spirituality of the marital state, which would also inform the language of the Church."
This, of course, would inevitably entail that "the doctrinal and normative framework cannot enter into the merits of all individual situations; rather it must remain open to the dignity and uniqueness of individual persons and situation." In the end, Faber wants to see "a practice of acknowledging also couples" which "do not meet the norm" of an indissoluble union.
"Narrative theology" was the topic of a speech by Fr. Alain Thomasset, SJ, a Belgian professor of moral theology at a Jesuit university in Paris. He presented his paper on the subject titled "Taking into consideration the history and biographical developments of the moral life and pastoral care of the family." The paper explicitly rejected the Catholic moral tradition of deeming certain acts intrinsically evil. In Catholic moral teaching, an act is intrinsically evil when its object is evil, which means it's immoral regardless of the intention or circumstances behind it.
According to Fr. Thomasset, though, "[T]he interpretation of the doctrine of acts known as 'intrinsically evil' is seemingly one of the principal fonts of the difficulty currently encountered in the pastoral care of families, as it determines to a large extent the condemnation of artificial contraception, of sexual acts by the divorced and remarried and by homosexual couples, even when they are stable."
Classifying certain acts as intrinsically evil, says Fr. Thomasset, "seems incomprehensible to many and seems pastorally counterproductive." Such classification "neglects precisely the biographical dimension of existence and the specific conditions of each personal journey."
"[N]arrative and biographical perspective," claims Fr. Thomasset, "obliges one to believe that moral evaluation does not cover isolated acts, but rather human acts included in a story." The upshot, says the moral theologian, is that "one should not be too quick to qualify a sexual or contraceptive act as intrinsically evil!"
The subjective formation of one's conscience seems to be the ground on which Fr. Thomasset attempts to leverage his heterodox would-be loophole, as "the objective ethical references provided by the Church," he insists, "are just one item (essential, certainly, but not the only item) of moral discernment that must be operated within the personal conscience."
Father Thomasset poses the dubious rhetorical question, "How are we to take into account the difference between an act of adultery and sexual relations within a stable couple of remarried persons?"
He believes it would behoove moral theology if there were "increased listening to the experience and the sensus fidei of couples who are seeking to best live out their call to holiness," as, in his words, "divine communication and its reception on the part of the individual believer are co-originating."
Of course, Fr. Thomasset insists his new theological paradigm would be developed "within the context of Catholic tradition," although precisely how one squares its denial of past teachings with its admitted logical consequences appears to be anyone's guess.
One of the problematic logical consequences acknowledged by Fr. Thomasset would be that "in certain cases, because of particular circumstances, the sexual acts of remarried couples would no longer be considered as morally guilty."
And the desired result of such a change? "This would open their access to the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist." He even cites a retracted essay from 1972 by then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger to lend an impression of agreeability to the notion, which has come to be known as "the Kasper proposal," after Germany's notorious Cdl. Walter Kasper, who's pushed it for years.
Another suspicious logical consequence of "narrative theology" would be the moral legitimacy of contraception, but only if a couple were married and still open to welcoming life somehow. Once again, how that is supposed to conform with Catholic doctrine's condemnation of artificial contraception is apparently not explained.
The consequences of Fr. Thomasset's new theology would extend to theological liberals' new favorite topic as well, as the "subjective moral responsibility" involved in homosexual acts done within a stable, exclusive relationship would purportedly be "diminished or eliminated."
"It's about helping people live the humanly possible in a path of growth toward the desirable," claims Fr. Thomasset.
After the presentations were finished, a round of discussion ensued in which many agreed that deeming civil "remarriage" a "permanent sin" was unwarranted. Hence, they explained, "The fact that for the divorced and remarried ... who are also sexually active, there is no possibility of reconciliation, is a dead end."
All such considerations were, of course, framed as concerns for the Church's good. "This situation must be overcome, in order not to further endanger the credibility of the Church when it speaks of the importance of reconciliation."