I wrote yesterday about the new attention some theologians are paying to “narrative theology”, which draws on people’s life experience in their real world situations as a source for theological reflection. The importance of this was highlighted in the Rome study day for selected bishops from Germany, France and Switzerland in preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, when a third of the programme (and two of the six papers) were devoted to it.
One of these papers, by Prof Dr Alain Thomasett SJ of the University of Paris, had the title “Taking into account of the history and biographical developments of the moral life and the pastoral care of the family”. In this paper, Thomasett tackles head on the challenge presented by what Catholic doctrine describe as “intrinsically evil” sexual acts, and the difficulties this doctrine presents for many Catholics in real life situation. This difficulty certainly troubles gay and lesbian Catholics, but not only them. (Thomasett also refers directly to those who have divorced and remarried, who will be a central focus of the Synod, and to married couples practicing contraception). The key to resolving the problem, he argues, lies in making a firm distinction between objective judgement of the acts, and the moral culpability of the people, which can only be assessed in the context of their particular situations and purpose.
An example he quotes outside of the sexual context is that of homicide. Objectively, taking a human life is an obviously evil act. Subjectively however, the context may change that. “Is it self-defence, an accident, a crime of passion, a murder, premeditated or otherwise?”. In the same way, he points out, that “objectively”, doctrine refuses to recognize remarriage after divorce because that is seen as adulterous – but there is a big distinction between a casual adulterous relationship between two people still married to their original spouses, and a new, loving and committed partnership between two people who for one reason or another cannot rebuild their first marriages, and now want to start a new life and new family.
Throughout his discussion, he emphasises the importance of personal conscience for the people involved, and also the importance of the wider Church paying greater attention to the “sensus fideii”.
The paper fully deserves close attention: but unfortunately have been published only in French, German and Italian. As there is not yet a reliable English version available, I have now posted my own (rough) translation from the original French, in three parts:
“Intrinsically Evil” Acts: Pastoral Guidelines