Being Pastoral Doesn’t Mean Watering Down the Faith
I owe Oprah Winfrey an apology. For years I have blamed her for what I have termed the “Oprah-ization” of society. We are living in an age where feelings triumph over everything else, and where everybody is a special snowflake whose precious feelings should never be hurt. I have blamed Oprah for perpetuating this with her shlocky television show and through most of the other channels of communication through which she has spread her false gospel. But only now have I realized that Oprah isn’t the villain; rather, she is merely the symptom of a much wider societal affliction that has affected all of western civilization including, sadly, the Catholic Church herself.
This was hammered home reading this article about Cardinal Kasper and the possibility of communion for remarried Catholics. After offering up the usual platitudes about Jesus’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, Cardinal Kasper than signals his willingness to essentially ignore what Christ had to say.
However, “after the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but rather a life raft” in the form of the sacrament of Communion, he said.
Cardinal Kasper, like most men of the cloth who want to change Church teaching, pretends that he is doing anything but.
“One cannot propose a solution different from or contrary to the words of Jesus,” the cardinal said. “The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage while the other partner is still alive is part of the binding tradition of the faith of the church and cannot be abandoned or dissolved by appealing to a superficial understanding of mercy at a discount price.”
At the same time, “there is no human situation absolutely without hope or solution,” he said Catholics profess their belief in the forgiveness of sins in the Creed, he explained. “That means that for one who converts, forgiveness is possible. If that’s true for a murderer, it is also true for an adulterer.”
Well if the murderer is a serial killer who has no intention of stopping his killing spree, then the murder’s contrition is less than authentic. Similarly, a divorced and remarried Catholic’s sin is not in some remote past, but rather is an ongoing sin that cannot simply be shrugged away.
Cardinal Kasper then speaks of possible reforms, and this is where the magic word meant to shut off all debate comes in: pastoral.
A possible avenue for finding those proposals, he said, would be to develop “pastoral and spiritual procedures” for helping couples convinced in conscience that their first union was never a valid marriage. The decision cannot be left only to the couple, he said, because marriage has a public character, but that does not mean that a juridical solution — an annulment granted by a marriage tribunal — is the only way to handle the case.
One is left to wonder what precisely the Cardinal has in mind. Would the couple have to just simply feel that their first marriages were invalid and thus never happened? According to Cardinal Kasper I guess it would be the pastoral solution. In other words, feelings trump 2,000 years of everything the Church has ever taught about marriage.
Cardinal Kasper returns to this term later.
“A pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” he said, would affirm that “the sacraments are not a prize for those who behave well or for an elite, excluding those who are most in need.”
And that, my friends, gets right to the heart of much that is wrong with the Church. Too many of our shepherds are under the impression that being pastoral means being soft and timid. Cardinal Kasper’s vision of being pastoral is placating the sinner rather than leading the sinner towards righteousness. This is in fact the very opposite of being pastoral. A shepherd of the Catholic Church is charged with leading his flock towards its eternal reward in paradise. There are many tools at the shepherd’s disposal, and I am not suggesting that there is any one right way. Certainly haranguing those of his flock who have strayed may not be the best method of getting them back into the fold. But telling them that they’re just spiffy as they march headlong towards the cliff is also inappropriate.
As is the case with Oprah, I can’t even blame Cardinal Kasper, not when he is an isolated case. Indeed his attitude is all too reflective of where the Church is at this moment in history. Though I am fortunate to be in a parish whose priests are unafraid to speak out about the controversial issues that most other priests avoid, my fellow parishioners and I are the exceptions to the rule. Much more common are generalized, fluffy homilies that don’t dare to touch upon abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc. That is why when the controversy erupted over Pope Francis saying that we ought not “obsess” over these issues that I almost had to chuckle. Obsessed? Who exactly is obsessed about these topics? Certainly not the priests and Bishops who say nary a peep about them lest they offend someone in the pews.
It’s not as though it is not worthwhile to explore ways in which we can improve upon the situation of remarried Catholics and to examine the procedures we have in place for annulments. Yes, there is room for a “pastoral” approach. But anything that is done must be genuinely loyal to the teachings of our Lord and not merely pay them lip service. Moreover, it time that our shepherds learn how to guide with both compassion and firmness, and to remember that saving souls cannot be done if we are dishonest about our motives and unwilling to gently guide people back onto the right path.