Is the Synod on the Family considering relaxing Catholic teaching against sex outside of marriage? Today a reporter put that question to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German bishops conference. Marx didn't answer directly. First he said that "the great majority" of German bishops support Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal for allowing some Catholics who have divorced and remarried to receive Communion.
Then he addressed the question of how the church speaks about sexuality (a major theme of the day's discussions). Some bishops at the synod mentioned that the church should "speak in a new way about sexuality"--"I think it might be possible," Marx said. How? Through the "very important" notion of gradualism. This aspect of the tradition recognizes that moral decision-making develops over time. "We cannot always have 100 percent." A person, a relationship, might develop toward the good, even if only in fits and starts. One bishop suggested that even in relationships that don't conform to the vision of the church, there may be aspects of those relationships that are ethical, according to Marx.
You may recall that when Pope Benedict XVI argued that it would be morally licit for some people--such as prostitutes who have HIV--to use condoms, he caused a bit of a stir. But he was simply drawing on the concept of gradualism. As one moral theologian told Catholic News Service, "The Holy Father recognizes that there is a path of growth in responsibility.... This is nothing more than a normal and traditional application of some principles of pastoral teaching."