Professor Anne-Marie Pelletier of Paris, France, spoke at the gathering at the Gregorian University about the “Reception of Matthew 19:3-12,” which deals with the words of Jesus Christ concerning the fact that Moses had originally allowed divorce (for men) because of the “hardness of hearts.” In this context, Pelletier points out that the customs of our times have analogously changed, and, purportedly, in a very dramatic way. She speaks of the “peak of laicism and of secularization” and even, arcanely, of an “anthropological disruption”; and she adds: “The [standard of] life-long loyalty is now confronted with an ideal of a temporariness of loyalty.” Pelletier quotes some people who even
warn against the violence which would be done to those persons in the situations in which they live – if these spouses were to be put into a fixed and conclusive category as “adulterers”; and if there is also depreciative talk about those persons who still insist upon practicing and retaining their sin; and who are, therefore, exposed to a canonical order that disallows them to live out the sacramental rootedness of their identity.
Pelletier also insists that it would be somehow additionally defective “to interpret each [conjugal] separation as a sin.”
Just as Cardinal Walter Kasper has proposed, Pelletier also promotes the idea of asking the faithful for the assessment of this problem and to take seriously thesensus fidei, the sense of the faithful:
In any event, it would be dangerous to despise easily, much less to disqualify, a sensus fidei which opposes the idea that the power of the Cross comes to a limit, or meets an insurmountable obstacle, in such a wounded form of Christian life. The same sensus fidei is today given an inspiration that in Christ “love and truth meet each other” (see Ps 85:11), and in a mysterious “alchemy” which cannot be revealed to the Church by the Spirit.
Moreover, Pelletier calls for a strong “imagination” in dealing with “remarried” couples and for receptivity to a “richness of ideas.” She bemoans the putative fact that such people do not find forgiveness and are in an “impasse” – and are “expelled.” She thus wonders:
Should not the Church simply take the risk in accepting that spouses who have come into conflict with the canonical law claim their right to ask for forgiveness, even if they do not claim the right for forgiveness? In this way, the Church would act according to the justice which Christ teaches, beyond the temptation into which his interlocutors [the Pharisees] tried to lead him.
She also insists upon the “historical reference to the biblical texts.”
They [the Biblical texts] have been written in the language of a past time which has to be translated again and again into the present. They refer to life conditions which are simply not any more valid because of the social and cultural change.
Therefore, Pelletier proposes an “actualization” of the passages of the New Testament. With unmistakable obscurity, she stresses: “Exactly because the votum of Jesus – in favor of marriage and against divorce – is so clear, it is also open. […] This openness is not relativism, but the capacity to deal with the future.” Got that? The French professor also claims that the “teaching, morality, and law of the Church have to be constantly on the course of reform, since it is accountable for discovering anew, and under the markedly changing conditions, what marriage – in the sense of Jesus – means hic et nunc.”
With reference to the Pauline privilege – according to which a marriage can be invalid if both spouses were non-Christian at the time of the wedding, and if one of the two spouses later becomes a Catholic – Pelletier claims that there is “the possibility to dissolve an existing marriage […] which has been overlooked by the traditional exegesis – and to grant the permission to enter a new marriage.” She continues:
But according to the New Testament, God Himself can dissolve a marriage – if the bond of the faithful with Him which has been concluded in baptism cannot at all be saved otherwise. Consequently, the Church has to make use of her power to bind and to loosen, and to do so in more cases than in the past – for the sake of the Faith.
Pelletier claims that, otherwise, the Church would lose many of the faithful by their being disallowed to “remarry.” Pelletier now also criticizes traditional Catholic moral teaching, saying: “The Catholic moral teaching – up into the Catechism of the Catholic Church – has interpreted the 6th Commandment expansively, and in such a way that any sexual intercourse outside of a validly contracted marriage is judged as being licentious. But this is a rather rigid interpretation.” She indirectly claims that some spouses simply are not guilty, because they did not receive the grace to abstain from sexuality after a divorce (but did they ask for it?) when saying: “Whoever does not have the grace, cannot immediately be called an obstinate sinner with reference to the indissolubility of marriage.” She bemoans the situation that any sexual act outside of marriage is called by the Church already an adulterous act – instead of calling it adultery only when a new relationship is truly being started. Pelletier calls for finding peace with these irregular situations within the Church.
After having presented separately Professor Pelletier’s statements made at the 25 May 2015 “Shadow Council” at the Gregorian University in Rome, we shall now present some of the main points and lines of argumentation of the rest of the speakers at the event, in order to prepare ourselves better for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family. Because of the unexpected vastness of the material, I propose to list the primary arguments, after first mentioning the names of the speakers and their general topics.
Professor Eberhard Schockenhoff (Freiburg, Germany)
Sexuality as an Expression of Love – Reflections on a Theology of Love
- “Many people doubt today whether they are truly able to make an irrevocable decision, even as the Christian ideal of an indissoluble marriage presupposes. They give as reason for their doubts that we humans can only promise love and loyalty for the present, or for a reasonably measurable period of time, but not for our whole remaining lifetime.” (p. 77)
- In this regard, a life-long relationship must now be regarded as a “mutual overextension.” (p. 77) Therefore, people can “only face the next part of their lives” when it comes to “common projects of partnership.” (p. 77)
Abbot Professor François-Xavier Amherdt (Fribourg, Switzerland)
Sexuality as an Expression of Love – Reflections on a Theology of Love
- Putative subjective values that are to be found in extramarital relationships and bonds: “My thesis is that a differentiated look upon each individual situation is necessary, and that it is of worth to point out the value of the ‘logoi spermatikoi’ – those seeds of the Spirit which are starting to be seen in some relationships – and to which one should rather strive to appeal, instead of to condemn – in the sense of seeing a gradual pedagogy of God and in the sense of providing an accompanying pastoral care.” (p. 88)
- “In this context, it would be appropriate if the value of the civil marriage [in contrast to a sacramental marriage] would be more stressed in the teaching of the Church; this value lies in the fact that this civil marriage is already binding and often open to life.” (p. 89)
- “Consequently, it would be morally and pastorally imaginable for us not fully to discredit such relationships [extramarital relationships].” (p. 89)
- “If the Church’s rites and the ritual and sacramental importance put human action into the framework of a community, and then lead to a form of marriage and give it a consecrated and a sacred dimension, why should one then not also be open to the positive festive and societal aspects of a celebration which concludes the bond [this form of an “intermittent stadium of a marriage,” i.e., a civil marriage] and opens it up to a future which is also open to fruitfulness?” (p. 90)
Professor Alain Thomasset, S.J. (Paris, France)
Taking into Account the History and the Biographical Developments in Ethics and in the Pastoral Care of the Family
- “The biographical or narrative approach calls for an ethics which is clearly oriented toward the person, without that it would thereby give up normative orientations.” (p. 91)
- “The Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod recognizes this difficulty [of the personal biography] (No. 52): ‘…[thus] the differentiation between an objective state of sin and the softening circumstances [is to be] carefully considered (…) since the accountability of a deed and the responsibility for it (…) could be minimized, or even removed, because of extenuating psychological or societal factors.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735). According to this teaching, the objective evil still continues to exist, even if it can be suitably softened (Veritatis Splendor, No. 81,2); the subjective responsibility, however, can be significantly reduced or even removed.” (p. 92)
- “The Second Vatican Council has called back into memory the primacy of the conscience which makes the decision in the final instance (see Gaudium et Spes No. 16.50).” (p. 92)
- Concerning the question of openness to life: “The pastoral comments of nine Bishops’ Conferences (among them those of France, Germany, and Switzerland in 1968) – in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae go in this direction, when they – while picking up on the argumentation of the Council – refer, in a case of conflict, to the judgment of the conscience and to the responsibility of those who took the initiative. Does one not have to give, once again, more space to the conscience of the persons?” (pp. 92-93)
- “Likewise, one should not judge a sexual act prematurely, either as contraceptive or as intrinsically bad.” (p. 93)
- “One has to think of this normative reflection as a historical process which is in constant motion. The Second Vatican Council has called this the pastorality of the teaching. With the help of all these elements, we can imagine to exercise a sobriety in judging human actions, namely in granting, in a clearer manner, to the personal conscience its conclusive role, but also in refining the current ethical norms. In this manner, those special situations are taken into account which make it permissible to deliver the subjects from their guilt. In order to avoid leaving this assessment solely up to the subjectivity of the persons, one could work out a list of those situations that occur often enough and a corresponding list of recurrent patterns. One could, for example, differentiate between an extramarital relationship, a situation of concubinage, and of remarried divorcees who live in a firm relationship with their own [developing] perspective toward the founding of a family. In the last case, the capacity to being guilty of such an order of mistakes would not be any more valid.” (p. 95)
- “Concerning remarried persons: It would be important to recognize that, in certain cases and under certain conditions, the sexual acts of these couples are not any more to be regarded as being morally culpable. This would make possible the access to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of the Eucharist.” (p. 96)
- “Concerning married couples: Sexual acts with a non-abortive contraception could be regarded – according to the circumstances – as subjectively not culpable, insofar as the couple remains open to the conception of life in the frame of a responsible and magnanimous parenthood and insofar as the actions are expressions of self-giving and of mutual love.” (p. 96)
- “Concerning homosexual persons who live in a firm and faithful relationships [with how many “partners”?]: A similar softening of the objective sinfulness of the sexual acts could be undertaken; the subjective moral responsibility could be reduced or even omitted altogether. This would be in coherence with the statement (and the witness of many professed Catholics) that a homosexual relationship which is lived in stability and loyalty can be a path to holiness: a holiness to which the Council calls all Christians (Lumen Gentium, ch. 5). Additionally, the homosexual person should be reduced neither to his sexual orientation, nor to his sexual acts.” (p. 96)
Professor Eva-Maria Faber (Chur, Switzerland)
The Gift of One’s Own Life – Reflections on a Theology of Biography
- The Church’s pastoral care has to accompany people in such a way “that it is perceived as being helpful in the frame of the given cultural circumstances. With it comes the challenge to recognize the intrinsic value of marriage which is not exclusively related to the foundation of the family. Already with respect to quantitative aspects, both the higher life-expectancy and the longer duration of marriage turn the time of partnership without the responsibility for children into a longer period of time – longer than the phase of family life [i.e., the raising and education of children].” (p. 99)
- “The Second Vatican Council has decidedly referenced the bond of marriage to the ‘inmost community of life and of love’ (GS 48). This radical change in the understanding of marriage [away from the priority of the procreative aspect of marriage] should not only consist in exchanging [or modifying some traditionally] central notions, but it also has to lead to the insight about how complex the foundation and preservation of a personal community is (i.e., as a community of two individual persons).” (p. 99)
- “There are incoherences inherent in the current Church’s teaching on marriage, since this change of perspective [away from procreation, toward the priority of conjugal love] have not yet been spelled out for all areas.” (p. 100)
- It is important to note just “how difficult it can be for two people to come at the same time to the same decisions with regard to their partnership. It can be an expression of loyalty of a person toward his partner, and to the commonly undertaken history, to forego taking (at least not yet) the step into marriage, because the partner is not yet ready for it. These insights propose a differentiated evaluation of forms of partnerships outside of marriage, for example with the help of the category of graduality [the reference is to Familaris Consortio].” (p. 101)
- “A frequent reason for divorce is to be found in situations in which people see themselves in their marriage as cut off from their biographical potentials for further self-development. To postulate here in a generalizing way that one should have an heroic self-denial is problematic insofar as spouses also in marriage are placed, each of them, into an individual vocational history (see 3.2.). When the partner makes impossible certain steps of growth in one’s own life, this can well lead to fundamental existential conflicts of values.” (p. 106)
- “The claim of fidelity and of the indissolubility of marriage refers primarily to the lived reality of the community of life of the spouses. What kind of reliability preserves such a ‘marital bond’ which is not even any more lived out in a concrete community of life? The practice to deny [to the divorcees] the possibility of receiving a [marital] dispensation here demands from people a form of fidelity which is not yet already existent in the marital vow itself.” (p. 108)
Summarizing Report about the Discussion
- “In this sense, it was pointed out that people who had a failure of their marriage and later live in a new civil marriage [still] experience individual guilt with regard to the earlier failure and the separation; but not with regard to the new partnership and the second marriage. The latter is rather regarded as a new start, sometimes as an attempt to overcome one’s own faults and to avoid them in the new relationship. With this background, it is necessary to re-evaluate the life in a new civil marriage. The biographical event is not sufficiently grasped under the aspect of a ‘permanent sin.’” (p. 114)
- “In the context of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage, it means that new insights, and an advanced knowledge here have to be actively taken into account, inasmuch as the concrete norms [of the Church] stem from a time in history in which one did not yet have a modern state of knowledge concerning the development and the importance of human sexuality. That all has to be included in a hermeneutical process which considers anew for today the witness of Scripture in the light of Tradition. In this sense, the norms have to be further developed.” (p. 115)
- “That it should be impossible for remarried divorcees who are also sexually active in a second relationship to find a reconciliation is an impasse; in the Church’s current practice, there is no equivalent for such a disallowance [of reconciliation]. This situation [therefore] needs a breakthrough, in order to avoid a further endangering of the credibility of the Church when she speaks of the importance of reconciliation.” (p. 115)
- “Whoever loves makes the experience of transcendence. And, therefore, one also finds oneself in a loving relationship which, currently, is not in accordance with the norms of the Church, although there are aspects which are to be regarded as authentic witnesses of the love of God and of the work of the Spirit. We have to seek God everywhere!” (p. 117)
- “The upcoming Synod may not limit itself to affirming the existing situation and the things that have been already [doctrinally] said.” (p. 118)
by Maike Hickson