|Archbishop Mark Coleridge|
In yesterday's press briefing, Archbishop Mark Coleridge attempted to pass off as Catholic pastoral theology what can only be described as situational ethics in action:
In the case of the divorced and remarried, we're always dealing with sin. There's no news in saying that, so that's just taken for granted. The Church has traditionally spoken of the second union as adulterous, and I understand why, and I understand the teaching and what lies behind it, including the biblical background. But at the same same time, not every case is the same, and that's where a pastoral approach needs to take account of the difference from situation to situation. For instance, just to say that every second marriage or second union - whatever you want to call it - is adulterous is perhaps too sweeping. For instance, a second marriage that is enduring and stable and loving, and where there are children who are cared for is not the same as a couple skulking off to a hotel room for a wicked weekend. So, the rubrik "audultery" in one sense is important, but in another sense it doesn't say enough. And I think what a pastoral approach requires is that we actually enter into what the Synod is calling a "genuine pastoral dialogue of discernment" with these couples. And the start of that is for people like me to actually listen to their story, and not just swamp them with doctrine or Church teaching. That's crucial, obviously, as the overall framework of any kind of dialoge of discernment.
Just in case anyone stands in need of a refresher, let's review the words of Our Lord:
Whosoever [Latin: Quicumque] shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. (Mark 10:11)
Could the flat contradiction between the words of Our Lord and those spoken by this successor to the Holy Apostles be any clearer? Quicumque doesn't leave any pharisaical loophole for permitting some objectively adulterous relationships, even if they appear to be enduring, stable, loving, and fruitful. Our Lord was very specific and very clear: whosoever, i.e. irrespective of all other considerations. Adultery is an objective sin of a particularly grave sort, as it violates both the Commandment of God and a Holy Sacrament of His Church. No amount of "pastoral attentiveness" can plaster over that incontrovertible fact.
When asked what the Archbishop hoped would result from the Synod, he said:
My hope is that we will move towards, without actually accomplishing it this Synod, a genuinely new pastoral approach. Now, at the heart of this, I think there has to be a whole new language. And here, I think of what's been said about Vatican II: that it was primarily a language event. That it was, therefore, something that was far from cosmetic. And I have in mind what the Bible says, that words create worlds. In other words, a new language that can open new doors that we might not even see at the moment, and can create new possibilities.
This matter of a "new language" is one which deserves more careful attention - particularly in light of the above comments from Archbishop Coleridge. We have been led to believe that the substance of Church teaching is not under attack at the Synod, and will not be changed; that all that is being sought after is simply a new mode of expression. But that is not at all what the Archbishop is describing here. His comment that "words create worlds" is a clear allusion, not only to the first chapter of Genesis, where God literally speaks the substance of the universe into existence, but also to the Word of God, through whom all was created. He is speaking of changing language in order to bring about a substantial change. He even tells us that the change being sought after is "far from cosmetic". He is talking - quite plainly, in fact - of preaching a new Word.
Accordingly, the faithful Catholics of Twitter gave the Archbishop the internet equivalent of a sound thrashing. I confess that I, too, joined in the fray with a few cutting remarks of my own. And I don't regret it one bit.
Today, Archbishop Coleridge took to the diocesan blog in defense of his comments:
The big surprise for me has been the ferocious reaction in some quarters to what I regard as my quite moderate remarks. Twitter has been frothing with invective, which shows what's out there - by which I mean the fear, even the panic this Synod seems to have provoked in some. That sort of thing doesn't look like the Holy Spirit to me - red-eyed joylessness cannot be of God. The impression is that, if you touch the slightest jot or tittle not so much of what the Church teaches but of what her pastoral practice has been or how her truth has been expressed, then the whole edifice built up over 2000 years will come tumbling down. If I believed that, I’d be panicking too and hurling lemon-lipped diatribes this way and that. But I don’t believe it and therefore find myself trusting in the path that’s opening before us, with the abuse rolling like water off a duck's back. Voices of fear, even panic, have also been heard in the Synod Hall and the small groups, but what's clearer to me now is that those voices within have strong links to similar voices without. It's also clear that those voices, clinging desperately to some imagined or ideologised past, cannot point the way into the future. History will have its way, however much we try to cling to illusions of timelessness.
Jot or tittle. Where have I heard that before?