Doctrinal Rigidity v. Pastoral Care

In the Anglican Provincial Churches around the world – currently fraught with problems arising from the stance of conservative leaders who cling to an outdated and deeply unpastoral attitude towards ‘irregular families’ and other traditionally marginalised people (including women and LGBTQI) in society – the recent meeting of Roman Catholic theologians at the Gregorian Institute in Rome reveals a movement in that Church towards the resolution of attitudes arising from ignorance and institutional conservatism that has led to many people turning away from the Church, because of its seeming inflexibility towards a class of people most in need of understanding and Christ-like pastoral care – in a world very different from that of the writers of both Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Brought together to consider the implications of Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘Amoris Laetitia’ – and in the light of the Pope’s insistence on the concept of synodality, where Laity, Clergy, Religious and Bishops meet together to discuss matters of Faith and Order in the Church – the vital importance of a culture of ‘creative listening’ became a valuable part of the proceedings. Discussed was the fact that the traditional conservatives in the Church (many of whom have resisted the teachings of the Vatican II Council, which embraced the culture of ‘semper reformanda‘) are still reluctant to go along with the enlightened pastoral initiatives of Pope Francis. This is especially observable among the U.S. Bishops who recently expressed their opinion that both President Joe Biden and the Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of the U.S. House of Representatives – practising Catholics – should be denied the Eucharist because of their support for legislation allowing for therapeutic pregnancy termination, and their support for the LGBTQI minority in the Church. Below, is the beginning of the Report from the U.S. Journal N.C.R. together with an extract from a report by women theologians at the Conference:

Perhaps the next LAMBETH CONFERENCE in the U.K. could take heed of this eirenic outreach of the Roman Catholic Church in a more intentional movement towards a Christ-like pastoral concern for the marginalised, those in familial relationships that are different from those thought by the pious to be ‘safe’ and ‘respectable’ – but which still need to be cared for in a rapidly changing world.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


Rome conference revisits ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and church’s call to welcome marginalized Catholics

May 24, 2022 – NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER – by Christopher White

Participants listen at the May 11-15 conference on Amoris Laetitia at Rome's Gregorian University.

Participants listen at the May 11-15 conference on Amoris Laetitia at Rome’s Gregorian University.

ROME — Although Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ landmark 2016 document on marriage and family life, has been widely praised for its call for greater integration of divorced, remarried and LGBTQ Catholics into church life, theologians have long said the text’s implementation on the ground has been mixed.

A major May 11-15 conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, however, brought together nearly 200 bishops, priests, religious women and theologians from 25 countries in Africa, Asia, North America, South America and Europe with an aim of firmly cementing the pope’s magisterial teaching on these matters into pastoral practice around the world.

“Family relationships are fragile,” Sigrid Müller, a member of the theology faculty at the University of Vienna, told conference participants. “Accompanying fragile family relationships is a task of the church.” 

To do that, she noted, “the church must change in order to accompany families,” and “an adequate accompaniment of families by the church requires a conversion.”

Sigrid Müller, a member of the theology faculty at the University of Vienna speaks at the conference on Amoris Laetitia at Rome's Gregorian University. (Courtesy of the Pontifical Gregorian University/Arnaldo Casali)

Sigrid Müller, a member of the theology faculty at the University of Vienna speaks at the conference on Amoris Laetitia at Rome’s Gregorian University. (Courtesy of the Pontifical Gregorian University/Arnaldo Casali)

Complexities of family life

Boston College theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill noted Francis, both in Amoris and in his own pontifical leadership, has emphasized the importance of listening and learning, especially to Catholics that have been historically marginalized.

Yet despite the example set at the top, changes at the grassroots remain a challenge.

“Many Catholics do not see the grace and possibilities experienced in their own relationships reflected in Catholic Church teaching that deems them ‘irregular’ and out of bounds,” Cahill said.

“Nor do all families and family members find in Catholic teaching or Catholic ministries the compassion, ‘mercy’ and encouragement they need to survive as a family and nurture children when relationships are painful and require costly sacrifices,” she added.                     

In Amoris, she continued, “Pope Francis warns against applying moral laws ‘as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.’ ”

“Objective moral truth about specific persons and relationships can be known only by engaging, discerning, judging and acting by or with persons in context,” she said. 

Relatedly, theologian Stephanie Höllinger of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany said that the language used to describe individuals or relationships as “irregular,” “imperfect” or “incomplete” may be problematic and points to a problem with the way catechesis has historically been practiced in the Catholic Church.

“The problem with traditional catechesis,” she observed, is that it “does not really want to meet people where they are, and to work in the messy areas where things are imperfect.” 

Her concerns were echoed by Hélène Bricout of the Catholic Institute of Paris, who said that always speaking of “irregular situations” can lead to social exclusion.

When it comes to the reception of Communion, much discussion focuses on the unworthiness of certain people or parties, which she said “perpetuates the idea that sacraments must be earned.”

“We have to admit that in God’s eyes, we are all, always, insolvent debtors,” Bricout said. 

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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