instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mercy is doctrine

I think there is a real risk that the laxist shenanigans over the question of pastoral care of the divorced and remarried* has primed the rigorist pump, to the point that almost anything the coming Synod might propose beyond an emphatic restatement of previous teachings and positions will be dumped on as a betrayal of the holy Catholic Faith.

And I think there's a very high likelihood that the coming Synod will propose something beyond an emphatic restatement of previous teachings and positions.

Georges Cardinal Cottier, OP, theologian of the papal households of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI and no outspoken progressive, gave a recent interview arguing both against rigorism --
"In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against the gentle way God has of guiding each person."

-- and for pastoral practice that goes beyond legalism:

“Mercy is doctrine, It is the crux of Christian doctrine,” the Swiss cardinal said. “Only a narrow-minded person can defend legalism and imagine that mercy and doctrine are two separate things. In this sense, today’s Church has realised that no one, no matter what their position, can be left alone. We need to guide people, both righteous and sinners."
This guidance can't be, "Come back when you're not in mortal sin," nor can it be, "No worries, we don't do 'mortal sin' any more." People need to get used to the idea that there are other possible positions. If the Synod rejects your laxist position, that doesn't make the Synod rigorist. If it rejects your rigorist position, that doesn't make it laxist.

Cardinal Cottier goes on to say:
"I believe that the solution to some problems should come from the prudent judgement of the bishop. I say this not without hesitation and doubt, seeing division between bishops. My claim refers first and foremost to certain situations where there is a big likelihood of the first marriage being null but it is difficult to provide canonical proof.... [I]n accordance with its pastoral mission, the Church always needs to be attentive to historical changes and the evolution of mentalities. Not because it should subordinate itself to these but in order to overcome the obstacles that can prevent others from embracing its advice and guidelines.”
It sounds like he's proposing something akin to a presumption of nullity in certain circumstances, based on part on the fact that Catholics today generally don't understand what marriage is. That raises all sorts of concerns, as he acknowledges, but it does seem perfectly consistent with Catholic doctrine, even as it is contrary to current Catholic practice.

Something like this may well cone out of the Synod.Maybe the Pope will decide upon something wise and prudent, maybe he will decide upon something foolish and reckless. The point is that there are plenty of things he might decide upon that are different without being heretical, and I worry that some Catholics aren't prepared to consider that if and when he decides upon something.

The problem for rigorists is exacerbated since, throughout Pope Francis's papacy, they have been treated more brusquely than laxists (or atheists). I expect this will continue. Cardinal Cottier spoke of the brutality of rigorism and the narrow-mindedness of setting mercy against doctrine, but he did not (at least in the portions of his interview quoted by Vatican Insider) criticize laxism. This practice has not been perceived as merciful by the rigorists, who I expect might wonder about the Cardinal's self-awareness when he said,
"There are still people who are scandalised by the Church, men and women who, due to a negative judgement which was expressed in an impersonal and insensitive way, have felt a terrible rejection."
And in fact, rigorists and laxists alike have taken this sort of thing as a sign of growing laxism -- which, if I'm right, only confirms the rigorists in their rigorism.

Now, you can say, "Rigorists are, objectively, incorrect. They should be corrected. If they had accepted the relatively mild correction of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, they wouldn't need the more pointed correction of Francis." That may be true. But the Church needs to guide people, both [your preferred form of] righteous and [your least favorite] sinners.

* I don't include Pope Francis among the laxists, though the freedom and encouragement he's given them in various ways has contributed to the environment in which they've been thriving.