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Shadow Council influences the German-language group at Synod

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

ROME, October 16, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - On 14 October, the reports of the thirteen language-groups of the Synod of Bishops on the Family were released, summing up the discussions concerning the second part of the Synod's working document (Instrumentum Laboris), entitled “Discernment of the Family Vocation.” The Archbishop of Berlin, Germany, Heiner Koch, as relator of the German-Speaking Group (Circulus Germanicus), summed up the discussions of his group in such a way that the influence of the controversial “Shadow Council” of 25 May 2015 at the Gregorian University was very evident. The “Shadow Council” which was organized by the presidents of the German, Swiss and French Bishops' Conferences, had dealt in detail with the importance of looking at the individual paths of people and their biographies. As Professor Alain Thomasset, S.J., stated at that meeting:

“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 [...]” (p. 92)

With this kind of approach, a sentimentalist approach is fostered which tends to weaken the normative, objective standards in favor of an understanding of people's personal problems, “life realities” and failings. This same tone can now be found in Archbishop Koch's report, when he sums the discussions up as follows:

We have also considered what the consequences are of such an interrelationship [between God's justice and mercy] with regard to the accompaniment of marriages and families. It excludes a one-sided and deductive hermeneutic which submits concrete situations to a general principle.

Koch speaks of “each individual's often concrete situation” which especially has to be considered – while also then abstractly quoting St. Thomas of Aquinas himself. And Koch further explains that is it not about “exceptions,” but, rather, about the “question of the just and justified application of the Word of Jesus: for example, of the Word about the indissolubility of marriage – while also then applying prudence and wisdom.” However, in the context of the Sacrament of Matrimony – what does this message mean? Is it so that in some cases the validity of this Sacrament does not apply? Should the indissolubility not still be valid because of certain concrete situations in people's lives? This seems to construct a misleading concept, since the process of the declaration of nullity of a marriage is already in place to find out whether, from its inception, a marriage is valid or not.

Archbishop Koch also speaks of the “gradualness of leading people to the sacrament of marriage,” a concept which can be used for finding “good” elements already in sinful extramarital relationships, as it had been put into the controversial mid-term report of the 2014 Synod (paragraph 13), which then became the just cause of much controversy among the Synod Fathers. Nevertheless, Koch has still insisted ambiguously that it is a great “pastoral duty” to “accompany these people in different [marital] stages with pastoral care.” In this context, it is worth quoting once more from the earlier “Shadow Council” itself (here from Abbot Professor François-Xavier Amherd's presentation):

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 just this same tone of a liberalizing and relativizing attitude, Koch also says in his recent language-group report that “in many discussions and perceptions we think in a too static way and with too little of a biographical-historical perspective.” Here again, we see the tendency to sentimentalism and subjectivism and nominalism all of which leave out or attenuate the objective law of God by which we all are to live and thereby to live more fully.

In this same manner, Koch rejects “rigidity” in claiming that the Church has to give people time and space to arrive at the Sacrament of Marriage, saying “the Church's pastoral care has to grant to the people of today time in order that they may mature on their way to a sacramental marriage, instead of approaching them with the 'all or nothing' principle.” Here also, is to be found the purported law or principle of gradualness which had been contested at the 2014 Synod.

When Koch persistently claims that the Church has to provide a “pastoral care which is oriented toward the person” and which “takes into account both the normativity of the teaching as well as the personality of man – while keeping in mind his capability to exercise a conscience and strengthening his responsibility,” one is again strongly reminded of the “Shadow Council,” which also claimed that the individual consciences of the people have to be given more time and space. See, for example, this following quote as expressed at the “Shadow Council”: “The Second Vatican Council has called back into memory the primacy of the [well-formed?] conscience which makes the decision in the final instance (see Gaudium et Spes No. 16.50).” (p. 92)

The overall content and tone of Archbishop Koch's report are troubling and filled with a softening and liberalizing tenor, without directly attacking any irreformable dogma or infallible teaching of the Church. We shall now have to wait for the report on the third part of the Synod's working document, where the language-groups will then have dealt with the practical approaches and remedies for the problems of the modern family, such as divorce and civil “remarriage.” By then, we hope, the Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who is member of that same German-language group, will have been able to set the tone and doctrine straight.

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