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U.S. Cardinals, bishops hold major meeting with dissident theologians on Amoris Laetitia

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, October 6, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- Two cardinals and a dozen bishops attended a conference this week at Boston College where they met with a number of dissident Catholics to discuss strategies for implementing Pope Francis’ controversial teachings on marriage and family in dioceses across the United States.

Jesuit Fr. James Keenan, a theologian at Boston College and one of the main organizers of the October 5-6 event, said the conference will “fortify and further the ongoing reception of Amoris in the U.S."

He said that the event is about “setting an agenda for the future of the Church” in the U.S.

Keenan testified in 2003 against a Massachusetts amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He argued that “as a priest and as a moral theologian, I cannot see how anyone could use the Roman Catholic tradition to support [the amendment].” He said the bill would deny “gays and lesbians” the “full range of human and civil rights.”

The dissident news service National Catholic Reporter (NCR) appears to have been given the exclusive privilege of covering the conference. Links about the event on Boston College’s website refer to articles on NCR’s website. On its website, NCR states that a “handful of press outlets have been invited to report on the proceedings, including NCR.”

It remains unclear, however, if any faithful Catholic news outlets covered the event.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago is co-hosting the conference. In June, the cardinal interpreted Amoris Laetitia as a call for Catholics to graduate from “an adolescent spirituality into an adult spirituality” where they will be able to use their “freedom of conscience” to “discern truth” in their life.

During the 2015 Synod of the Family, which Cupich attended at Pope Francis’ personal invitation, the then-archbishop said that active homosexuals should be able to receive Holy Communion. He later defended his view in an ABC interview, stating that if “gay people” in “good conscience” discern that they should receive Holy Communion, then “they have to follow their conscience.”

The Boston College conference consisted of panel discussions between prelates, theologians, and canon lawyers, many of whom hold positions contrary to perennial Catholic teaching on marriage, the sacraments, conscience, and the existence of absolute moral norms.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a theologian at Manhattan College, said in a panel discussion yesterday that Pope Francis is calling for respect for the moral decisions lay people make in their lives and that he is working to overcome the “infantilization of laypeople.”

"The infantilization of the laity has its historical roots in a view of lay-people as objects of clerical control: pay, pray and obey, or as Pius X notes in [the 1906 encyclical] Vehementer Nos, 'the right of the laity is to allow itself to be led,' " she said.

She emphasized that Amoris Laetitia calls pastors to respect decisions lay people make in conscience, after a process of discernment.

"The replacement of conscience is an act of domination…It is an abuse of power,” she said.

Cathleen Kaveny, a theologian and civil lawyer at Boston College, spoke on one panel about how the Catholic Church after Amoris Laetitia needs to re-evaluate its view on remarriage as permanent “adultery.”

"Jesus clearly disfavored adultery," she said. "It's clear that he rejects divorce and remarriage as contrary to the original will of God.”

“But nothing in Jesus' words or conduct demand that the sin involved in divorce and remarriage must be conceptualized as a sin that continues indefinitely, without the possibility of effective repentance,” she told conference attendees.

"To impose such a requirement in every case is not merciful," she said. "And mercy is the ultimate touchstone for the divine lawgiver."

Kaveny said the Church would do well to turn to U.S. civil law as a resource for a re-evaluation.

She gave the example of one case where the Supreme Court ruled that polygamists could not be charged with separate crimes for each year they were married with numerous partners because such charges must align with their “lived experience.”

Of note attending the conference is Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, papal confidant and editor of the Italian magazine La Civiltà Cattolica. Spadaro has defended Amoris Laetitia as opening the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to access the Sacraments. He stirred controversy in January when he tweeted in reference to the backlash caused by the Pope’s teaching that “2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5” because “it has to do with #God and real #life of #people.”

Spadaro told attendees at the conference that after Amoris Laetitia, the Catholic Church can no longer set down general rules that apply to entire groups of people.

"We must conclude that the pope realizes that one can no longer speak of an abstract category of persons and ... [a] praxis of integration in a rule that is absolutely to be followed in every instance," he said.

"Since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same," he added.

"It is no longer possible to judge people on the basis of a norm that stands above all," he concluded.

Also attending the conference was Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Farrell has called the divorced and remarried receiving Communion a “process of discernment and of conscience” that is arrived at after a “journey” where the couple is accompanied by a priest. He has criticized a fellow U.S. bishop’s guidelines that refuses Communion to the remarried as causing “division.” He has also praised Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s book Building A Bridge. The book has been criticized by other bishops, and even a cardinal, for its failure to speak about sin and its tendency to normalize homosexuality.

Farrell spoke yesterday on a panel about Amoris Laetitia’s message to Catholics who have become disaffected by authority structures, according to National Catholic Reporter.

Speakers also included Malta Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who co-wrote guidelines for implementing Amoris Laetitia in January that allow civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics living in adultery to receive Communion if they are “at peace with God.”

The Malta archbishop told Malta Indep in a 2016 interview that homosexual civil unions are a "service to the dignity of these people.” “I think that we should support legislation that gives same-sex partners their dignity and their social protection,” he said. Malta legalized homosexual “marriage” in July with little opposition from Scicluna or his brother bishop, Mario Grech.

Also attending the conference is San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy. He called on priests in his diocese last November to allow divorced and remarried Catholics living in adultery to “utilize the internal forum of conscience in order to discern if God is calling them to return to the Eucharist." He has also told priests to embrace "LGBT families" in their parishes.

The conference comes about two weeks after 60 Catholic clergy and lay scholars from around the world issued a “Filial Correction” to Pope Francis for “propagating heresy.” They asserted that Pope Francis has supported heretical positions about marriage, the moral life, and the Eucharist that are causing a host of “heresies and other errors” to spread throughout the Catholic Church.

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