Secret Study-Day Invitation and Program

Father Eberhard Schockenhoff
Father Eberhard Schockenhoff (photo: Screenshot)

The Register has obtained a copy of the invitation and program for last Monday's closed-door study-day held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, a translation of which appears below.

Of particular note is the prominence of Father Eberhard Schockenhoff in the discussions, as well as the other speakers chosen. Father Schockenhoff's previous controversial statements on homosexual relations are listed here. Some passages that are likely to cause concern are included in the text at the end of the program, highlighted in bold below.

Also of note is that sympathetic journalists were invited, and had their expenses paid as well as the other participants, so they could be supplied with "background". That can only mean that the organisers wished to have the agenda publicised in the months leading up to the synod. Given the likely opposition and unease the subject matter would provoke among the faithful, this would surely go against the Pope's desire for a "protected space" so that such polemics would not go beyond the confines of the synod.

But even if it were kept within the synod, what is alarming many is that, according to a piece written by Marco Ansaldo in La Repubblica, excerpts of which I include below, nobody present, including the bishops and one of the Pope's closest advisers, opposed Church recognition of same-sex relationships after a priest theologian explicitly advocated it. Furthermore, this took place after a paragraph on the "positive aspects" of same-sex relationships, written into the last synod's interim report by Archbishop Bruno Forte, was rejected by the synod fathers.

The article of Ansaldo, the only Italian journalist invited to the meeting, contains a number of aspects of Monday's study day that have not yet been widely publicised.  


Bishops' Conference of France – German Bishops' Conference – Swiss Bishops' Conference

[Letter of Invitation]



The Holy Father has initiated an invitation to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will take place from 4 to 25 October in Rome, and which will have as its announced topic “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.”

Already the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of last year [October 2014] offered manifold opportunities to discern future-oriented paths of theological reflection and of pastoral practice unto the promotion of marriage and the family.

The Lineamenta of the this year's Synod [in 2015] again has contained a questionnaire which has now received answers from all over the world. Further reflections now seem to us to be helpful.

In preparation of the Synod, we – the Presidents of the French, German, and Swiss Bishops' Conferences – host a theological Day of Study  together. It will pick up on the impulses which have come out of the present opinion-forming responses, and which refer to the theological-anthropological aspects of human biography and love and to the exegesis of the message of the New Testament which relates to this topic.

Cordially we invite you personally to participate in this Day of Study. It will take place on

Monday, 25th May, 2015, from 9.00 am. until 16.00 pm.

At the Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Sala Gonzaga,

Piazza della Pilotta, 4

00187 Rome

You will find enclosed the preliminary program, as well as a content-related summary of the three topics to be discussed.

The Day of Study brings together participants of the Synod, high-ranking Curial members, theologians from our [three] countries, as well as journalists. The number of participants shall not exceed more than about 50 persons. In the interest of a free debate it is to be a closed event, which has for the participating journalists the character of a background conversation.

It would give us much joy if you could make possible your participation. You will also find enclosed an application form. We ask for your application in this form, to be received not later than 4 May 2015. We will gladly cover the travel and lodging costs. A list of nearby hotels is also enclosed.

In case of further questions [...]

We remain with very cordial greetings and the best wishes and blessings for this Season of Easter, yours


Mgr. Georges Pontier                                                                                Mgr. Markus Büchel

   Reinhard Cardinal Marx

Day of Study Concerning the Synod of Bishops

“The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.”

A Conjoint Initiative of the Presidents of the French, German, and Swiss Bishops' Conferences


Monday, 25 May, 2015 – Rome, Gregorian University, Sala Gonzaga


08.00                      Occasion for Participation at the Holy Mass

                               Jesuit Chapel, Gregorian University

09.00-09.30            Welcome and Introduction into the Conference

                               (P. Prof. Dr. Hans Zollner, SJ, Archbishop Georges Pontier)

The Words of Jesus concerning Marriage and Divorce

- Reflections upon a Catholic Hermeneutic of the Bibel

09.30-09.50            Short Presentation (Prof. Dr. Anne-Marie Pelletier)

09.50-10.10            Short Presentation (Prof. Dr. Thomas Söding)

10.10-10.40            Discussion with the Participants

                                           - Coffee Break -

Sexuality as Expression of Love

- Reflections upon a Theology of Love

11.10-11.30            Short Presentation (Prof. Dr. Eberhard Schockenhoff)

11.30-11.50            Short Presentation (Prof. Dr. François-Xavier Amherdt)

11.50-12.20            Discussion with the Participants

                                           - Lunch Break with Snack -

The Gift of One's Own Life

- Reflections upon a Theology of the Biography

13.30-13.50            Short Presentation (P. Prof. Dr. Alain Thomasset SJ)

13.50-14.10            Short Presentation (Prof. Dr. Eva-Maria Faber)

14.10-14.40            Discussion with the Participants

14.40-15.40            Final Overall Discussion

15.40-16.00            Closing Remarks (Cardinal Reinhard Marx)


Moderation: Dr. Francine Charoy / P. Bernd Hagenkord SJ


Concerning the Main Topics of the Conference


The Words of Jesus Concerning Marriage and Divorce: Reflections upon a Catholic Hermeneutic of the Bible

The words of Jesus concerning marriage and divorce have to be interpreted in the context of his entire proclamation and of the tradition of the Church. According to the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation in the Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum (No 8), the understanding of tradition is the cause for progress in history, namely, because of the study and the considerations of the faithful, their own understanding of spiritual things, and because of the teaching of the Magisterium. What is the meaning of the spiritual experiences of the faithful for the hermeneutic of Scripture and Tradition? What significance lies in the experiences of the faithful in marriage and in the family, with respect to the understanding of the words of Jesus concerning marriage and divorce and their concretization in the context of the contemporary life realities?

Sexuality as Expression of Love: Reflections upon a Theology of Love

The Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar doctrinal developments have promoted a personal understanding of sexuality which considers sexual relationships as expressions of marital love. However, love between a man and a woman exists also outside of a canonically valid marriage. What significance can sexuality have in such relationships? A newly developed theology of love is therefore necessary which can build upon the tradition of the moral-theological capacity to differentiate, and which includes new insights from anthropology and sociology. Part of this would be a personal understanding of sexuality which is not concentrated upon sexual acts or their consummations [compare to Schockenhoff's comments on homosexual acts mentioned in my previous article], but rather looks at the connection between Eros and Agape. How can these different forms of love be assessed moral-theologically, and in a differentiated way? What is the “added value” of the sacramental marriage in comparison to other forms of living? The Law of Graduality, as it has been discussed at the last Synod, or the reference to the teaching of the“logoi spermatikoi,” as made by the Relatio, can both – is it not so? – be starting points for a further development of the Church's teaching on marriage?

The Gift of One's Own Life: Reflections upon a Theology of the Biography

Socially, in a highly complex and pluralistic society, the individual has a greater responsibility for one's own way of life. Often, it does not follow traditional patterns any more. The personal concepts of life and the conscientious decisions of the individual [now] play a greater role; biographical developments [sic] are part of the planning of life. To this fact, the pastoral practice concerning marriage and the family has to respond. What kind of new role could the proclamation of the Gospels and the formation of conscience play when the faithful in their relationships and in their sexual life do not live up to the demands of the Gospels? Concerning those people who have failed with their life designs, how can the Church accompany them with regard to pastoral care as well as, possibly, with regard to the liturgy? How can the Church proclaim convincingly the presence of God in such failures?

La Repubblica on Study-Day

Marco Ansaldo's piece is entitled: "Bishops in the Wake of the Irish Referendum: 'The Bond Between Gays Is of Value to the Church'. The subheading is: "Bishops and theologians gather behind closed doors at Rome’s Gregorian University 'to recognize couples if their relationships are stable'."

He begins by quoting one of the participants: “What can we say to a young man who doesn’t find his place within the parameters of the Church? How should we implement the practice of eros? Here we are faced with problems with which we must contend. Otherwise people will eventually go away.”

He then adds: "The quiet alarm, launched by a priest and professor mid-way into the proceedings, shakes the rectangle of tables seating the 50 people who met at the Gregorian University in Rome for a study-day organized for the Synod of Bishops set for next autumn. “Marriage and Divorce,” and “Sexuality as an Expression of Love” are the titles under discussion. They are burning topics of great relevance on the heels of the ‘Yes’ referendum on gay marriage in Ireland."

After listing some of the participants, he then explains that media present were required not to attribute authorship of the statements to the speakers. He then adds:

And the discussion was very broad and free. Touching also on the subject of gay unions, recalling the Irish vote. “The matter is not a topic of the Synod,” a German priest and theologian points out, “but nonetheless, it is a cultural matter. If there is a strong relationship between two persons of the same sex that leads to a recognition, this must also become a bond for the Church.” He then adds: “Personally, I say that this union should be recognized, even if not as a marriage. If the Church does not recognize it, this doesn’t imply a discrimination, but that it means to reaffirm the principle of the family constituted by one man and one woman.”

An innovative position. No one present opposes it. In fact, the conversation widens. “It’s clear,” a French bishop says, “that we are experiencing a new pastoral reality.” And, on the subject of the divorced and remarried, a professor continues: “With the increasing lifespan, the frontier of faithfulness also shifts. But the discipline of the Church today is far from being stationary. After a failure, an abandonment, one can commit oneself in a new life with another person. These problems come to us from those involved in teaching, as well as from the faithful. Applause, and it continues on.

Ansaldo then quotes one German bishop who comments: “The dogmatists say the teaching of the Church is fixed. Instead, a development exists. And we need a development on sexuality. Even though we don’t need to concentrate only on this.” He adds that a priest, who is also a professor, admits:  “Since we live as singles, celibacy for us priests makes it difficult to speak to others about their life as a couple.”

The Italian journalist points out that no one uses the word “parresìa” — frankness —a key word of Francis’ pontificate, but the discussion at the table of the Gregorian "unfolds entirely under its shadow."

He quotes a Swiss priest and professor who makes rather sexually explicit remarks, and another Swiss participant cites Sigmund Freud and Erich Fromm, saying: “The importance of the sexual drive represents the basis for a lasting relationship.” The participant goes on to say that the lack of sexuality “has something in common with hunger and thirst. The question that characterizes it is: “Do you want to have sex?” But this does not mean desiring the other, if the other does not want. The question should be: “Do you desire me?”. This is how the sexual desire for the other can be joined to love.”

He ends the article with the words:

"The discussion is intense and touches on the Sacraments, Baptism, the complicated issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried. “How can we deny it, as if it were a punishment, to people who have failed and found a new partner with whom to start a new life?”.

Then there’s an opportunity to speak about the pain of the children of those who are separated: “In confessions we hear many accounts of adolescents who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. But sometimes the separation is also a good thing.”

Words that seem revolutionary if uttered by men in clerical garb, through an initiative taking place in the heart of Rome and sponsored by the Episcopal Conferences of France, Germany and Switzerland. They are bishops considered by many to be avant-garde. It will be up to those of them who take part at the next Synod, like Cardinal Marx who concluded the proceedings, to carry such liberal reflections all the way to the Pope.

One of the participants in last October’s Synod says: “I wish there had been a similar discussion at the Vatican. There still isn’t that freedom to speak that we have had here today. But we have the hope that all of this, now, will help.”