It was fascinating. Two good priests, both teachers at the Lateran University in Rome, showed us different approaches to the same questions. The one helped us judge as clearly as we could what is right or wrong in any given situation; the other helped us to see that if we started with the person or people involved we would probably, at first, judge differently.
The one approach was called Moral theology: to understand right and wrong as God has revealed them, starting with the sanctity of life and of loving God and our neighbour. The other approach was Pastoral theology which started with people in their actual situations and how best to guide them to live as we believe God wants of us.
Here are some examples:
(1) A woman suffers in an unhappy and cruel marriage. She has made a promise but the marriage has failed. What can best be done to help her – tell her keep to the law and wedding promise and suffer, or leave the marriage and live without fear and suffering?
(2) A man is attacking defenceless people with a knife or gun. You see an opportunity to run him over in your car and kill him. Do you kill to prevent killing?
(3) Your children are hungry. You are begging but cannot beg enough. The chance comes to steal food. Do you steal or let your children go hungry?
(4) Migrants are trying to reach the British shore. Do you prevent them, overturn the boat and let them drown, charge them a fee to bring them safely ashore, say it isn’t your problem?
(5) The Catholic Church teaches that sexual love is a gift from God for the mutual happiness of husband and wife and the procreation of children. But we know that many people have a natural sexual attraction for persons of the same sex. Do we accept them as they are and their freedom to love and be loved in a sexual union?
There was a small explosion in Rome last Wednesday when Pope Francis signalled his approval of civil unions for same-sex couples. We have heard him say on various occasions “We are as God made us”, “You are as God made you” and now the Pope has made those words, words of the Church. He spoke similarly when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
He did not speak about a sacrament. Sacramental love is that between a woman and man and its promise of lifegiving to their children: the civil union is blessed by God and the Church because we are as God made us and loves us.
Moral theology teaches that sexual love is for the happiness of the woman and the man and for the life of their children: Pastoral theology begins with the truth that we are as God made us. The teaching of the Church is to bring these two truths together, not to choose one or the other. Pope Francis follows the path of Pastoral theology.
We follow Pope Francis along difficult paths, freely – asking, thinking, questioning, trusting – as he speaks about sexual relationships, financial honesty, clerical ambition, abuse of children and women by priests and bishops.
Read “In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” published in eight languages on the same day in 2019 by major Catholic publishers. You will see something of the burden Pope Benedict could no longer bear. He knew much was wrong, he admits it openly. He said the Church needed a stronger man than he. Thank God, we have him in Pope Francis.
Poor abused children, poor abused women, corruption in Vatican finance, morally bankrupt Church in league with dictatorships, especially in Central and South America, and the poor neglected. So much wrong. Pope Benedict admitted his failures and those of his predecessor and resigned. Can Pope Francis bring integrity and reform to the Vatican and Church?
God bless us,
(25th October 2020)