The False Dichotomy Between Being Pastoral and Being Doctrinal

Check out the Vortex below. It starts as a commentary on Pope Francis’ “controversial” statements, but quickly veers into a superb discussion about the false dichotomy between being “pastoral” and being “doctrinal”.

We traditional Catholics often consider the word “pastoral” as almost a proxy for a weak-kneed response that will inevitably dilute Church teaching. It obviously doesn’t have to be that way.

Likewise, the more liberal of the brethren tend to think of us as being too “doctrinal” and “rigid”, thus lacking “pastoral sensitivity”.

The truth, as Voris points out, is that there’s no antagonism or conflict between being authentically doctrinal and authentically pastoral. Underscore authentic. Every intervention should strive to be both.

Being doctrinal, by the way, does not mean reciting a doctrine to somebody. It means making sure that your pastoral approach is consistent with Church doctrine. Big difference. No authentic pastoral intervention should violate doctrine. Ever.

Maybe us trads tend to emphasize doctrine because it’s easier to get the doctrine right. After all, within the field of doctrine, there are many blacks and whites, truths and errors. For example, direct abortion and artificial contraception are always wrong. In the field of pastoral judgment, on the other hand, there aren’t as many clear cut truths and errors, so it’s more risky because anybody can make an error in judgment. Being risk averse creatures, it’s often easier to hammer the clear-cut doctrinal truths and leave the pastoral judgments as a secondary consideration. Especially since we’re totally sold on the doctrines of the Church and we have trouble why others don’t accept them like we do. We think these truths so self-evident. That would be a mistake. Going back to our previous example, if you met a woman in a crisis pregnancy, there are a range of approaches  you could take to persuade her to keep the baby. If you pick the wrong one — even though it may be consistent with the doctrinal of the inviolability of innocent human life — we might just lose that baby. This ain’t rocket science. We all know this. Yet we still find pro-lifers whose best tactic to convince the above woman would be to yell at her that she’s a baby murderer.

Doctrine and pastoral judgment,when done properly, are mutually reinforcing. Doctrine ensures you’re acting in the Truth. The pastoral approach ensures that you elicit the most favourable response possible to the grace of God working through you.

We need both — badly.


One thought on “The False Dichotomy Between Being Pastoral and Being Doctrinal

  1. The problem with this is that you, and Michael Voris, are presuming we are still in a world that recognizes right and wrong, good and bad. But that world no longer exists. There are only 2 sins in our world: smoking and intolerance, which means basically defining right and wrong. I regularly pray outside abortion clinics, and I can tell you that the majority of women going in there do not believe they are doing anything wrong. To tell them that they are involved in intrinsic evil means nothing. Homosexuals are convinced that they are doing nothing wrong. Their consciences are dead. They cannot be appealed to on the basis of right and wrong because it doesn’t exist for them.

    The only way to reach out to this world is by living the Cross, by just getting out there in the world and showing them Christ within you, just as Mother Teresa did. This is the message that the Holy Father was trying to get across. He was telling us that you can’t be hitting people over the head all the time and telling them they’re dirty rotten sinners. You have to bring them the love of Christ and try to break through to them with that.

    It’s a different world with different rules. Unless and until we learn that lesson, which the Holy Father has tried to get across to us, we will just be hitting our heads against the wall and accomplishing nothing.

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