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Saturday, August 1, 2015

St. Alphonsus, St. Ignatius, and the "Shadow Council"

Casuistry is defined "adapting the unchangeable norms of Christian morality to the changing and variable circumstances of human life." It has a legitimate place within moral discourse, rooted in the very Catholic idea that simultaneously affirms the objective immorality of a particular act with the reality that personal guilt for that act might be mitigated by conditions related to, say, full knowledge and full consent.

It's notable that St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits (feast day yesterday), and St. Alphonsus Liguori (feast day today), are celebrated on consecutive days, because Liguori is best known for his work in developing casuistry in moral discourse, and the Jesuits have often been criticized (fairly and unfairly) for turning casuistry into sophistry or rationalization.

Unfortunately, Jesuit stereotypes have at least some grounding in reality, as proven again by the gathering of a so-called "shadow council" in May at a Jesuit university in Rome, in which, according to a CNA story, "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 author of the CNA story, Andrea Gagliarducci, writes that one of the speakers, Fr. Thomasset, a professor of moral theology at a Jesuit university in Paris, presented a paper entitled, '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.”

Fr. Thomasset, SJ, asserted that the idea of acts being intrinsically evil "seems incomprehensible to many and seems pastorally counterproductive," because 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.”

What happened in this so-called "shadow council" is an example of there being nothing new under the sun. Some of those gathered (and at a Jesuit institution, unfortunately) seem to be embracing the shadow side of casuistry and its rejection of any intrinsic evils, thus removing the immutable boundaries proper to authentic moral reasoning.

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