Andrew Sullivan calls the news out of the Vatican yesterday a “pastoral revolution.” That point is being vigorously contested right now by the likes of Robbie George, George Weigel and R. R. Reno, who point out that the statement in question has no official status. Some reports say that the report reflects the sentiments of a plurality of bishops participating in the synod. Still, it is significant that a synod of Bishops has even released an interim report affirming the church’s traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality while calling for “courageous pastoral choices” that include valuing gay “sexual orientation.”
At least some of these bishops wish to maintain the language of the catechism but to adopt pastoral practices that contradict it. This enables them to say that the church’s teaching on homosexuality has remained constant and that the only change is in how it is applied in people’s lives. But in this case, that distinction doesn’t work. One cannot value something and at the same time repent of it, and yet that is what these bishops appear to be calling for. Most people (I think) can see the contradiction.
There is another problem with the synod’s statement. The Catholic catechism bases its teaching on sexuality in part on Persona Humana, an official church statement on sexual ethics. In that document, the defenders of Roman Catholic faith are specific about the church’s teaching and pastoral applications of that teaching. Note the underlined portion:
In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence. But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God. This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.
In other words, Persona Humana prohibits any pastoral choice that would imply moral approval of a practice that the church forbids. And yet, this is precisely what the synod’s statement yesterday achieves. It calls for “courageous pastoral choices” that value gay sexual orientation. This is a contradiction that cannot be reconciled.
Perhaps the final statement from the synod will have a different message than the one we have now. The Vatican already appears to be walking-back the so-called “pastoral revolution” that it launched yesterday. There’s some indication that conservative bishops are quite unhappy with the interim report, which has no official status anyway.
When Martin Luther made his famous statement at the Diet of Worms, he said, “I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other.” Martin Luther’s critique still resonates today, for this interim statement from a synod of bishops is a clear contradiction of church teaching. What good is official church doctrine if so-called “courageous pastoral choices” are allowed to contradict that teaching? That is the question that this synod has yet to answer.