Tomorrow’s Church sees God in mercy, not prohibitions

31 October 2014 by Daniel Kearney – ‘THE TABLET

I was explaining Situation Ethics to a Year 10 class – the idea that the same action can be right or wrong depending on the circumstances.

“So why did this Pope Pius XII not like it then?” she enquired.

Pius XII had banned seminaries from discussing this case-by-case approach to making ethical decisions. He thought such it was “an individualistic and subjective appeal to the concrete circumstances of actions” to justify going against God’s will.

“It was because he believed it might lead to anarchy and lawlessness,” I replied, “and people might just follow their conscience and forget about the rules”.

Then the student’s riposte: “So did Jesus forget about the rules and cause anarchy when he didn’t approve of the stoning to death of the woman caught in adultery?” asked one of them.

Now I was on the run, and the pack scented blood. “Surely he did the most loving thing when he gave the woman another chance. He put some compassion into the law,” they implored.

I am sure my pupils are not readers – unfortunately – of The Tablet but they were very much in tune with Cardinal Walter Kasper’s ideas about looking for ways to show “mercy” to people in irregular relationships. This was a much-discussed theme at the bishops’ recent Synod on the Family in Rome, of which the final document was published in English yesterday. Pupils have a raw, uncomplicated honesty and clarity that illuminates everything, even the dreariest and most tired outlook.

I teach in Catholic schools, yet the majority of pupils I have taught do not attend Mass on a regular basis. Yet they are generous, socially aware and decent young adults. Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP noted: “The young especially are interested in spirituality rather than doctrine. They are interested in God more than the Church”.

The challenge is how we attract people to belong as well as to believe. How do we attract these lively, passionate and talented young people to the Church? How can we encourage them to make a difference now?

The Church has a vital role, even a missionary role, to a generation of young people who, for whatever reason, find themselves swamped by relentless tides of a seductive and opulent secularism.

But what alternative should it offer? If we want our young people to belong then we have to offer them something attractive to belong to, something which reaches out to them in whatever circumstances they might find themselves. If the gospel is good news, they should be pleased to hear it. What attracted the early followers of Jesus was not his insistence on Pharisaic rules but his embodiment of love and justice for all. Such ideals can inspire the hearts and minds of our young people too. I have seen it!

They were genuinely interested when I told them about the synod in Rome, and the issues that were being discussed – homosexuality, marriage, divorce and so on. They are young, inexperienced and innocent but they are also open-minded, tolerant, non-judgmental and honest. They are fully aware of so-called “irregular” relationships. They live and have their being in a landscape very different from that in which I was brought up. I admire their openness.

When I told them of the final document from the synod, and the three sections relating to the pastoral care of gays and Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics – that didn’t get the backing of the necessary two-thirds of the bishops – here was a genuine sense of puzzlement. The feeling was best summed up by one of them: “What is the Church for if it can’t do the most loving thing for those who need it? I thought it was supposed to do what Jesus did.”

Daniel Kearney is head of RS at Leweston School, a Catholic independent school in Dorset-


Daniel Kearney, a teacher of young people in a Roman Catholic School, bravely speaks out in a Roman Catholic newspaper – the U.K.-based ‘Tablet’ –  about how his youthful students react to the reluctance of the Church to follow the example of Jesus Christ in his acceptance of people on the margins of society.

” What attracted the early followers of Jesus was not his insistence on Pharisaic rules but his embodiment of love and justice for all. Such ideals can inspire the hearts and minds of our young people too. I have seen it!” – D.K

Young people are hard to fool, especially when the doctrine of the Church seems to be more important that the Gospel (Good News) of Christ’s treatment of the outcast and sinners of his day. They rightly question the morality of imposing standards that were seemingly questioned – and in some cases revoked – by Jesus himself.

Perhaps they have cottoned on to the fact that Jesus said: “They will know you’re my disciples by your love” – not by your judgementalism and harsh treatment.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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