Letter From the Periphery: “First Comes the Pastoral Schism, Then Comesthe Doctrinal”
Translation: Giuseppe Nardi
Posted by Tancred
The Eponymous Flower
Edit: this doesn’t appear in Chiesa yet, but we’re impatient so here it is.
(Rome) The Vatican expert Sandro Magister has published the thoughts “of a non-Italian prelate, whose name deserves confidentiality.”
Using a Case by Case Pastoral Instead of Preaching is a Dangerous Game
After the Synod some bishops and cardinals that the Church declared they should “be attentive to”, “discerning of” and “accompany” the Church. The “art of pastoral care” and “inclusion” with a pastoral style is sought, which is not only unapparent in the final document of the Synod, but also many comments from representatives of the ecclesiastical world.
A sensitive access to the people of our time is being looked for. Personally, I am glad that the priest in the confessional takes every effort to understand my particular situation, rather than to slap me with the Catechism. But is this also a suitable access to the mass media? What happens if the non-confessional but the public communication is dominated by a case-by-by-case mentality? Can talking about the concern about the single individual replace the Christian message? Does the basic tension between liberals and conservatives perhaps have something to do with the imminent danger that the proclamation of the doctrine is evaporating more and more?
Today’s media system with its myriad digital networks represents a major challenge. The globalization of communication through interactive platforms has changed the process of the formation of public opinion. The attitude of the Church towards this reality requires a different point than the local pastoral.
If a very good shepherd of souls, to the man of good will, tells a homosexual in a direct conversation that he does not want to condemn him, then that’s a good thing. But then in the case that this good shepherd of souls is located in a plane, and says the same thing to the journalists around the world, we are dealing with two completely different levels. In the latter case, the words are incorporated directly into the commercial and political space of the medial field.
Almost all the Western media are characteristically secular or agnostic and interpret the religious themes in the horizontal plane, that is, in the political, historical, sociological, but not on their corresponding vertical plane toward God. What about the transcendent dimension of a message? The original sin? No, that does not count for anything. The only thing that matters is the media sensation. The reader or the viewer wants a story that causes a sensation: “The Church condemns homosexuals no longer.” That’s a message! And the next chapter? “The church has changed its sexual morality”. And then: “The validity of the Ten Commandments depends on the decision of each person in his own conscience.” The durability of the value of such messages is only but brief. The media system always requires a new blockbuster. If the pastoral discourse replaces the teaching of doctrine, then the result will be an erroneous media presence in the Church.
But some shepherds understand these mechanisms very well. Perhaps they also understand the difference between communication in counseling and communication in the mass media. Maybe they are just afraid of the media. They are afraid of internet bullying, in a martyrdom in the circus of the published opinion. Most desirable is a pastor who condemns no one. This can go so far as some flirt with the press or on TV or even develop a “Stockholm Syndrome” to ally with his own kidnappers. Is that not ultimately the desire of a Church that finds broad support: a privileged Church?
Whatever the reasons may be, the proclamation of doctrine has now receded into the background. It does not explain more what the Church has always declared true and good, or what She has always declared wrong and bad. One is content, however, upon merely explaining that not all cases are equal. What consequences will this have? What will that mean for the unity of the Church and the pastoral practice? What about evangelization?
Among the faithful who remain faithful to the teaching of the Church, it will be the cause of confusion and discomfort. One can already find in many countries, that progressivist circles are benefiting in the meantime from the lack of a binding proclamation, to relativize the teaching and to require an adjustment to the time. This is a dangerous game.
It can lead to a schism in the Church: first in the pastoral practice and even in teaching.
What would the Apostle Paul do? He didn’t speak upon the Areopagus to the Gentiles with a situation-dependent pastoral care. He also didn’t speak immediately of Christ, but first of the culture which he had found there. He pointed to his listeners that he had seen their gods and their sanctuaries in Athens and that he understood their world. He knew that the better he understood their world, the better he would be understood.
Undoubtedly, today we have to show that we have understood the idols of the 21st century, such as the optimization of worship, hedonism or the technologisation, to show that we have better on offer. Firstly, however, we must yet realize that we can’t do that only on a Case-by-case pastoral care. In order to succeed, we must first declare the Church’s teaching, and make it suitable for the media, but not adapted to the media. Faithful to the faith, but not with the communication style of the past.
Jesuit Antonio Spadaro on the issue: Is Communication Style of Pope Francis Condemned to Misunderstandings?
As far as the letter from the periphery. Sandro Magister points to an Aleteia interview with the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro from the Civilta Cattolica on the communication style of Pope Francis last April. Father Spadaro is one of the closest confidants of the pope, as particularly demonstrated around the Synod of Bishops. In the interview the question was asked whether the communication style of the Pope does not entail the risk of misunderstanding in itself. Here is the question and answer of Spadaro.
Aleteia: “Is there a danger of being misunderstood? Some pastors complain, the faithful who are divorced and remarried come at them, putting them in the role of the ‘evil one,’ with the statement, “the Pope said ”?
Father Antonio Spadaro: “There is a danger of misunderstanding concerning the words of the Pope and is part of their communicative ability. The communication, if it is real, is ambiguous. If it is, however, only from press releases from formulas and lessons, the word is clear, but does not communicate. The Pope has a clear choice: to favor pastoral care and to talk to people. Certainly this is ripe for possible misunderstandings, but at the same time it moves, it moves, the people of God to appeal to their shepherds. The pastors are called today to re-read the Gospel, to explain it to the people better, to be shaken by the words of Francis. The word of the Pope is not the last, is not definitive, it lacks judgment, but the Word is able to move the people of God and to initiate processes. This is a key to understand Bergoglio. He is a Pope who does things, but one who initiates processes. “