The Problem with the Trend of “Pastoral Circumstances”

I’m noticing a really disturbing trend among certain churchmen lately–Cardinals, archbishops, people in generally high places in the Church.

It seems like in the realm of sexuality and marriage, some folks are increasingly putting that which is orthodox Catholic teaching at odds with what is “pastoral.” At the very least, they’re being VERY ambiguous.

Certain clergy members are taking the teachings of the Church and twisting and turning those teachings in such a way that, for the laity on the ground, it sounds an awful lot like the rules can be bent “in some cases,” if the “circumstances” require such a “pastoral” approach.

This is not an authentically Catholic approach. Jesus Christ is Truth, and the Church that He founded proclaims and teaches this Truth. The truth is not ambiguous or unclear. It is immutable and eternal. Presenting a false Gospel is not pastoral; and the teachings of the Church do not need to be changed, lessened, or watered down in order to be pastoral.

This is what I’m talking about:

1) In early January, Father Maurizio Chiodi, (ironically, a moral theologian), stated that according to his reading of Amoris Laetitia, contraception could be acceptable “in certain cases:”

“He [Chiodi] believes that artificial contraception ‘could be recognized as an act of responsibility that is carried out, not in order to radically reject the gift of a child, but because in those situations responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.’”

I respond to this, of course, with a big, fat NO. When used artificially to negate fertility and prevent conception, contraception is an intrinsic evil and is gravely immoral no matter the “circumstances.” The Church, in Her wisdom, gives us a better, moral option for spacing children: NFP.

2) Similarly, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, as well as several others, claim that based on their reading of Amoris Laetitia, divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to return to Communion even if they have not received an annulment from the Church “in some cases.”

This is a very complicated issue–but to sum it up briefly, the Code of Canon Law and Catechism are VERY clear that one should not receive the Eucharist in a state of grave sin without having gone to confession; doing so would be another mortal sin (Canon 916).

It’s important to note that those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment of previous marriages cannot be admitted to communion because, even if they received a civil divorce, the Church still recognizes the marriage as valid; meaning they would still be married in the eyes of the Church and thus (unless the couple is living as brother and sister) living in a state of sin with the new spouse.

The Catechism and Canon Law are very clear. Unless you want to profane the body and blood of Christ, you should not come to communion if you’re divorced and remarried until all of your previous marriages have been annulled.

3) And then there’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Headlines earlier in the week claimed he had given his approval to blessing same-sex “unions.” The Archdiocese of Munich requested CNA publish a correction that shows his answer was actually not a direct approval, but in my view their translation of Marx’s answer to whether or not same-sex unions could be blessed in the Church is just as bad as the initial reports:

Marx says, “There are no general solutions and I think that would not be right, because we are talking about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies to other areas as well, which we cannot regulate, where we have no sets of rules.”

To this I say, problematic translation or not, his answer should have been a resounding NO, and the word “no” is pretty darn easy to translate from German. There is a general solution, you can regulate this, we do have a set of rules: it’s called adhere to the teachings of the Church and making it loud and clear to priests on the ground that they cannot, under any circumstances, bless what both the Church deems morally illicit and the natural law deems disordered.

I am a member of the laity. I am not a moral theologian or a scholar of canon law.

But I love Jesus Christ. I love the Eucharist. I love that centuries of tradition as well as scripture and the Magisterium–all given to us by Jesus–give us a guide in how to live, in how to hopefully make our way to Heaven.

But the reason I was drawn to the Catholic faith just over four years ago was that despite the waves of time, the pressures of the world, and no matter how loud the culture shouted the Church down, She stood firm. She didn’t change her doctrine. She continued to hold fast to the truth even though the rest of the world laughed, mocked, ridiculed, and attacked.

Sort of like Jesus on His Cross.

But the instances I mentioned above make me really uncomfortable. The Church is the Body of Christ and as such She can never be called corrupt, or unorthodox. But man, does it look like we have a problem with some of the people that are in positions of spiritual leadership. Because this wishy washy, ambiguous attempt to soften up the teachings of the Church because the it’s-not-fair-and-life-is-just-so-hard-for-some-people-and-we-need-to-be-inclusive and the being-pastoral-is-complicated-and-should-be-addressed-on-a-case-by-case-basis approaches are Not. Authentic. Catholicism.

I wrote about this same concept in my post about Fr. James Martin, but it seems that the problem with presenting a dishonest and false Gospel runs much deeper than one Jesuit.

Even if these clergy members are wanting to explore a pastoral approach to readmitting the divorced and remarried to communion (say, for example, someone whose husband ran off and there is virtually no way to obtain an annulment) it’s still a VERY slippery slope and I worry that it is one that could (and perhaps is) taken out of context to the degree that people think that regardless of their circumstances, they can approach Communion, even in a state of mortal sin.

In effect, when exceptions are made when it comes to using contraception in marriage, admitting the remarried to Communion without annulments, and blessing “same-sex unions,” it’s saying that the Truth of the Catholic faith is only applicable in certain cases. It’s saying that it may apply to certain people, but for others, when “pastoral circumstances” or “accompaniment” require it, the clergy should go easy on the laity when it comes to proclaiming what the Church expects of the laity in marriage and sexuality.

When Jesus encountered Mary Magdalene, he acknowledged that she had indeed sinned. He does not condemn her. Rather, he says, “go and sin no more.” He didn’t soften the truth for her. He wasn’t ambiguous. He told her, Stop living the way that you are living, as a prostitute–pursue what is higher. She left that life behind her and followed Him.

There is nothing pastoral and nothing merciful in telling couples that it’s actually okay to use contraception “in some cases” because its not. It’s always gravely immoral.

There is nothing pastoral and nothing merciful in allowing divorced and remarried couples who haven’t been given an annulment to receive the Holy Eucharist because doing so not only profanes the body of Christ but also damages their souls.

There is nothing pastoral and nothing merciful in blessing a union that by its very nature involves two people using each other for sexual gratification, no matter how sincere they may seem.

As with Mary Magdalene, Jesus tells us through the doctrines of the Church, clearly and unambiguously, to go and sin no more, to follow Him, leaving our old ways behind. The Church is our Mother–and like a Mother, she only gives us certain commands because She wants what is best for us and our salvation.

May our priests have the courage and fortitude to tell us no when we want something that is not good for our souls.

One thought on “The Problem with the Trend of “Pastoral Circumstances”

  1. jn says:

    Re Amoris Laetitia and ‘Communion for divorced and remarried’, FYI:
    1 of 3) The Sarah case:
    2 of 3) The case for absolution:
    3 of 3) A possible reply to the dubia:

    ‘When used artificially to negate fertility and prevent conception, contraception is an intrinsic evil and is gravely immoral no matter the “circumstances.”‘
    If the intention in using contraception is not to negate fertility and prevent conception but to prevent the spouse being affected by a genital ulcer disease such as chancroid, ( ), would that still be gravely immoral?


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