The pastoral exception, the Magisterium of the moment, and the end of Catholic marriage

Recently, I mentioned fighting other Catholics over gay “marriage” and similar issues. What is especially maddening about them is their tendency to affirm the doctrinal question in a technically minimal way, but then to articulate a pastoral exception so broad that it devours the doctrinal rule. Yes, of course gay “marriage” is a grave moral evil and a mockery of divinely-ordained matrimony; but we mustn’t say so out loud! We might offend someone, and it’s hardly very Christian to do that, now is it? And meanwhile you shouldn’t order your life or act in any way as if you believe gay “marriage” is evil, because Christ calls us to love one another in a way higher than mere doctrinal correctness, and —

Well, you can see the problem. Are there any limits to the “pastoral exception”? None that are typically spoken of, certainly none that are evident to me. The result of this line of thinking is a world where gay “marriage” in the abstract is accepted to be a moral evil, even if no particular gay “marriage” can be said to be.

We are seeing this already in anticipation of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which certain elements in the Church (evidently with at least some sympathy on the part of the Holy Father) desire to make into an occasion to (very quietly) affirm the Church’s ancient teachings on the indissolubility of marriage while (very publicly and aggressively) relaxing the disciplines that support the lived reality of those teachings; in other words, to canonize the current arrangement of practical lawlessness in the administration of the Sacraments and to formalize the Church’s heretofore merely material complicity in adultery. It’s hard to say what direction the Synod will go in, of course, but the trend here is not encouraging. It is very possible that, by this time next year, the Church will have automated the American annulment factory and exported it to the entire world, and that divorce-for-any-reason-or-none-at-all will become, if not doctrinally acceptable, tolerated with a knowing wink and nudge.

There are two major problems if the Church should follow some of the routes being suggested. The first, of course, is that they remove what few safeguards are currently in place for Catholic marriages that exist today. There would no longer be even the thinnest of social or institutional incentives for one spouse not to destroy their family out of opportunism or mere boredom, deprive their children of one parent, and bankrupt the other in divorce court; no matter how demonstrably wicked and unrepentant an adulterer that particular person is, they can be assured of the Church’s “nonjudgmentalism”, their “tolerance” for their second (and third? fourth? nineteenth?) union, and not-even-minimally-legally-fettered access to Holy Communion. It’s easy to point to people whose lives are inconvenienced by these teachings (and, evidently, easy to feel sorry for those people, though in my experience they are often deeply unsympathetic figures); it is far more difficult to account for the potentially millions of people whose lives would be ruined if this relaxation of discipline occurred. Apparently, those people don’t count.

Now that such a move would be horribly bad, morally and practically and prudentially, should be manifest; thankfully, it would also be reversible, being a prudential and disciplinary decision. Which leads me to the second problem: the culture of repulsive servility within the Church, and especially among the laity, where such conversations would necessarily need to happen, makes such a reversal nearly impossible, at least any time soon. Mainstream faithful Catholics today simply do not tolerate anyone arguing that bad decisions are made anywhere, ever, by anyone in the Church, unless by someone who is marginally to the right of the rightmost person currently standing within 50 yards of the Pope (whose status as a nonperson will surely be communicated to the world in one way or another). It is not so much forbidden to talk about bad decisions being made, it is forbidden even to think that they are made, that it is even possible for them to be made. It is a culture which flatly and firmly refuses any principled discussion about anything outside the immediate agenda of the powers-that-be; a culture which treats every prudential and tactical decision from the Vatican as if it were handed down on stone slabs from Mt. Sinai; and a culture which sees the laity, not as the faithful sons and daughters of the Church, but as its slaves.

Immediately after the making of such a decision, it would become a bannable offense at Catholic Answers Forum to voice one’s opinion that this was a bad move, or to share a personal story about the ruin inflicted on one’s life as a result of it (unrepentant Wiccan sodomites, of course, would still be welcome, because Evangelism!). Talking heads at EWTN would be fired for voicing their discontent (if any of them bother). Cardinals who object would be booted from their dicasteries. And the irrelevant bloggers who slip through the cracks of institutional bludgeoning-into-conformity would be showered with anathemas by tedious pedants like Mark Shea. That such a culture is wholly contrary to the Church’s own articulation of its vision of the role of the laity, or that canon law itself acknowledges the right of Catholics to voice their opinions on matters related to the good of the Church, would be irrelevant, because pastorality and charity today only ever seem to flow in one direction: leftward.

Such a decision, despite its frankly stupid motivations and ruinous consequences, would be effectively seared into the collective conscience of the Church as an infallible utterance of the Magisterium of the Moment. And none of us would live even to see the damage acknowledged, much less undone.

So let us all pray that our Lord preserve the Church from such a blunder (as she has, on many occasions, made in the past, and is in no way protected from), and inspire her instead with the zeal to defend that which was ordained by God from the beginning, and which is the very model of her submission to Him.

24 thoughts on “The pastoral exception, the Magisterium of the moment, and the end of Catholic marriage

  1. Pastoral exception: the muruna of the Catholics. Maybe Catholics should improve their command of Latin, so Catholics can discuss matters without too much prying eyes…

  2. “A pastoral exception so broad that it devours the doctrinal rule.”

    Good wordsmithing.

    “Pastoral” always seems to be code for some new leftward moving Hegelian abomination. Benedict was the only Pope in recent memory who acted as though he thought of himself as pastor of non-liberals in addition to liberals.

  3. Thank you for writing this.

    Although it goes without saying, let me add anyway that the sickly picture very accurately portrayed by Proph is just the 1-5% that is at least nominally orthodox. The other 95-99% of baptized Catholics will take the Vatican’s capitulation on adultery as vindicating their rebellion. If anyone in the hierarchy is thinking this act of cowardice will buy them some peace, they’re going to be unpleasantly surprised. The rebels will escalate their demands for female priests, contraception, sodomite marriage, and the rest. And they’ll get those things too. If we surrender on divorce (and whatever the bishops mumble under their breath, everyone will know that they have surrendered on divorce), upon what principle could we resist any Leftist demand?

  4. Trust the Pope and the Magisterium, that they are docile to the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry so much. Be at ease.

      • Pope Francis was right to use those words. For the LORD taught it this way as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 7:

        [1]: “Judge not, that you be not judged.
        [2]: For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
        [3]: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
        [4]: Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
        [5]: You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

        The Church teaches what is to be believed and what is right to do; and protects the Deposit of Faith. The Church disciplines its own people in ways that are within its right, responsibility and power to do so. But those who are in same-sex marriages are not “in the Church” are they? Are they not lost – far outside of Her protection? They are not evil in themselves; their actions may be evil though (as may ours be) – but the State (the protector of Christians and pagans alike) praises same-sex relationships! People look up to the State; if the positive law approves, then it must be right, right? That’s the general thinking of a pagan people. Until these people are evangelized and given healing such that they can see the Light of their errors, “who are we to judge?”

      • Pope Francis was right to use those words.

        I’m glad you agree that we are competent to judge.

      • No. When the Pope makes a statement as he did, he is not defining ex cathedra. Is that what you mean?

      • I mean, specifically, the disciplinary changes being countenanced here. They would not only not be ex cathedra, they would not be Magisterial at all. They would be a prudential decision in which the Church could, in fact, err. Why, then, counsel docility? Are you of the opinion that the laity have nothing useful to say?

  5. The Church just needs to hold out for another 20 years without going off the deep end. All of these attempts at reform are the result of older clergy and laity trying to square their 60’s-inspired modernist values with the circle of Catholicism. If it wasn’t, they would already have found a new home with the Anglican or more liberal Protestant denominations (unless a belief in such things as Transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception are actually sticking points for them).

    With a small percentage of exceptions, the younger generation are either leaving the Church completely, becoming Christmas & Easter Catholics, or are becoming traditionalists. Of those three, guess which ones will come to dominate parish politics.

    • Younger clerics are typically better than the older ones, certainly, but it would be a mistake to think they are equipped to turn things around. They are still quite malformed, immersed heavily in existential and Oriental theology (my young associate pastor insists that the consecratory moment in Mass is the epiclesis, not the institution narrative) and pastoral psychology. I know another priest, in his late 40s, who has celebrated a clown Mass. It was a young bishop in Germany who recently voiced his support for sodomy and remarriage after divorce. Etc.

      We’re looking at a century, at a minimum, for things to turn around. Everyone present at or alive during the Council will have to be dead, and so will everyone who ever knew them, before we have a shot. That is assuming that our policies do not change for the worse in the meantime, and they may well.

    • With a small percentage of exceptions, the younger generation are either leaving the Church completely, becoming Christmas & Easter Catholics, or are becoming traditionalists. Of those three, guess which ones will come to dominate parish politics.

      I don’t know all that many parishes well, but the impression I get is that parish politics are currently dominated by women in their 40s-60s who are reverts (i.e. who were functional atheists in their 20s and 30s and who then came back without actually, you know, coming back). Oh, and homos. And old ladies spending the money their husbands left them. Are you sure this is going to change?

      At the very conservative parish I currently attend, there are definitely traddie-seeming people. There are big families who receive kneeling on the tongue and whose women wear chapel veils, etc. But they don’t seem to me to be anywhere near the centers of influence.

      • This has been my experience as well. The vaunted “JPII Generation” is really a dud.

      • At the very conservative parish I currently attend, there are definitely traddie-seeming people. There are big families who receive kneeling on the tongue and whose women wear chapel veils, etc. But they don’t seem to me to be anywhere near the centers of influence.

        The oldest Millenials are only around 30. They are just entering the age to start taking over leadership positions and have families. There are certainly exceptions as far as liberal young Catholics go, but as a rule, the zealots are likely to be traditionalists, not progressives. Young progressive Catholics took their beliefs to the logical conclusion and left the Church.

        Congregations do what they are told. How could traditional, conservative congregations be reduced to attending clown masses in a matter of years? Because of liberal zealots. Post Vatican II Catholics can be led back with some effort. If traditionalists within parishes can work together, and the priest is anything short of antagonistic, many gains can be made. Confessions before mass and a better choir are easy ones. Who but the crazy boomer choir director (Choirs consisting of 3 people and an accoustic guitar, maybe a piano if lucky) is going to go to bat over “Here I am Lord”?

        Who leads the youth group? Who writes the church bulletin? Who organizes the after church coffee and spring fair? All of these things are just waiting for “volunteers” to help and set the tone for parish life.

  6. No one mentioned this but isn’t it bad to take the sacrament when in a state of unrepentant mortal sin (e.g. an adulterous relationship)? So the Church will establish a discipline that encourages this?

    • Judging by the lack of availability of pre-Mass confession in the mainstream Church, they are already encouraging this.

      • I agree but this seems like they would be taking this sort of mistake further by formally establishing it as a practice/discipline.

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