European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

One would think that a major gathering of progressive Catholic leaders, a choir of voices seeking major changes in ancient church doctrines on marriage and sexuality, would draw lots of coverage from the mainstream press.

Yes, readers will obviously need to keep their eyes on the work of some of the official journalistic voices of the Catholic left. And it might pay to set a Google News alert for the following terms -- "Pontifical Gregorian University," "German," "French," "Swiss," "family" and "divorce." Including the loaded search term "shadow council" is optional.

So, what's up? Flash back to the news about the strangely under-covered May 25  gathering of progressive European Catholic bishops and insiders (including journalists) to discuss proposed changes in doctrines linked to marriage, family and sexuality. What happened? It's hard to say, since many of the journalists did not report about the event that they attended.

Now, Andrea Gagliarducci of the conservative Catholic News Agency, has a report online based on the texts of some of the "interventions" presented behind those closed doors.

This sounds like news to me. Yes, it's one take on these materials and the lede is pushy. However, this is why it's important for the mainstream press to dive in and -- trigger warning -- do some basic journalism, talking to articulate, qualified voices on both sides of the current doctrinal warfare over sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Read on.

Rome, Italy, Jul 29, 2015 / 03:01 am (CNA) -- Yes to contraception, homosexual acts, and Communion for the divorced and remarried -- all considering the circumstances. No to understanding any acts as intrinsically evil.
These are the positions advocated by speakers at the May 25 “shadow council” which gathered prelates and theologians, led by the German bishops, at a Jesuit university in Rome.

That day 50 specially chosen representatives of the the German, Swiss, and French bishops conferences gathered at the Pontifical Gregorian University for a closed-door meeting, with the aim of reflecting on the biblical and theological bases of the family, and of discussing their goals for the Synod on the Family which will be held at the Vatican this October.

The doors were closed and confidentiality agreements were in place. But, several weeks ago, the German bishops conference released the "interventions" texts in French, German and Italian (minus, Gagliarducci notes, the final address by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising).

A key development was the emphasis on "narrative theology," theology that is shaped by human experiences and stories. As opposed to claims of transcendent, revealed truths? Calling James Davison Hunter! Back to the CNA analysis:

Fr. Alain Thomasset, SJ, introduced it in his speech at the secretive meeting. Fr. Thomasset, a Belgian, is professor of moral theology at Centre Sèvres, a Jesuit university in Paris. His paper was titled “Taking into consideration the history and biographical developments of the moral life and pastoral care of the family,” and in it he rejected the notion that any act can be intrinsically evil.

He maintained that “the 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.”

This understanding of some acts as intrinsically evil, he said, “seems incomprehensible to many and seems pastorally counterproductive.” He added that while it “justly insists on points of reference as the targets of the moral life, it neglects precisely the biographical dimension of existence and the specific conditions of each personal journey.”

He claimed a “narrative and biographical perspective obliges one to believe that moral evaluation does not cover isolated acts, but rather human acts included in a story,” and that thus “one should not be too quick to qualify a sexual or contraceptive act as intrinsically evil.”

Read on. There are twists and turns ahead, including a key quote linked to an essay by one Joseph Ratzinger -- now the retired Pope Benedict XVI -- that has been retracted and repudiated by its author. Another speaker says that, on key issues, it is clearly time for doctrinal development for Catholics.

And then there was this:

François-Javier Amherdt, a professor from Fribourg, stressed that a sexual act that happens outside the context of marriage “remains incomplete” and that “fecundity is needed to fully exercise sexuality.” So, what to do with “sexual relations that fall outside the marriage covenant?”

Amherdt answered that one must discern “according to the situation ... we must sound a word of call rather than of condemnation, according to a pastoral care of accompaniment.” He urged that not all situations of cohabitation are the same, and that “on a moral and pastoral view” these relations cannot be “completely discredited,” as “their deficiencies, moreover, in some cases are due to pressures of context and to the lack of references to the education of sentiments.”

My question, thinking back over several decades of covering Catholic news linked to these topics: How does this concept of evolving, experiential theology on matter of sin, brokenness and sexuality square with the "Theology of the Body" and "Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth)" texts by St. John Paul II?

Why isn't this making mainstream headlines? Just asking.

Stay tuned and keep looking for new coverage of these texts.

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