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The "Pastoral" Approach

Viktor Michailowitsch Wasnezow. Iwan Zarewitsch on the grey wolf.
A young man and his impure imagination
are carried into Hell by a "pastoral" approach.
(Viktor Michailowitsch Wasnezow. Iwan Zarewitsch on the grey wolf. [Source])

1) Introduction

A few days ago, a recently-ordained Catholic Deacon sent me a draft article called "A Positive Look at the Winnipeg Statement". Today we will concentrate on one of his arguments, which hinges on the definition of "pastoral approach".

2) An example of a "pastoral" approach

First, a bit of background information. The Winnipeg Statement is heavily criticized (by people like me) among others for its infamous Section 26, which pretty well says that our conscience invents good and evil:

In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.

That passage of the Winnipeg Statement would be OK, according to this Deacon, since:

I believe the directive is very similar in intent to one that I find myself having to give every semester when teaching sexual ethics. Inevitably, someone raises his hand and inquires whether masturbation is morally permissible. After teaching them that it is self-centered and trivializes the sexual act and is thus morally wrong, some students look like they've seen a ghost. The situation calls for a pastoral directive.

In light of the fact that adolescent boys are in their sexual peak, that they are almost continually subjected to a barrage of sexual imagery on television and in film, that most of them have never been taught a thing about sexual morality, and that it is thus much more difficult for a teenager to cultivate chastity today than it was thirty years ago, one should probably assure them they need not fear of being forever damned were one of them to get hit by a bus crossing the street on the way home from school.

3) What is a "pastoral" approach, anyway?

I think there are two possible definitions for the expression: "pastoral approach", because there are only two possible approaches. As I've said elsewhere, a learning situation involves some kind of bar at a given height, above which the students must climb to pass the test, and the teaching given by the teacher to enable those students to climb that high. So if a student, for whatever reason, cannot currently climb over that bar, you have only two options:

- lower the bar; or
- improve the teaching.

If you apply this to the Catholic religion, the "bar" is the dogmatic and moral truths taught infallibly by the Magisterium. So for the contraceptive pill, or masturbation, the "bar" is at a certain height, and that height is: "No, not at all, never, under pain of mortal sin". And the Church clearly teaches that the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin go immediately into Hell, where they suffer eternal punishment [Denzinger, #1002].

So what about those poor couples who have 28 children and no money left, and who have so much sexual appetite that they cannot just hold hands in bed, otherwise the husband will be forced to commit adultery with his voluptuous secretary, while simultaneously contracting AIDS which he will then transmit to his wife, who will die young and be unable to take care of all of their poor children? Couldn't they just take a smidge of the pill?

And what about those poor young men filled with hormones, who are forced to watch pornography on their cell phones, while simultaneously being unable to read good books on morality because they are part of a visible minority in a country which forbids them to read, while forcing them to attend schools filled with bikini-clad schoolgirls? Wouldn't God overlook a little masturbation here and there?

4) What would my pastoral approach look like?

Saint Joseph with a Madonna lily, symbol of purity.
Saint Joseph with a Madonna lily, symbol of purity.
[Novena to Saint Joseph]

Suppose I were a Priest in above-mentioned strange city filled with poor boys "condemned" to masturbate. What would I do? Lowering the bar is unthinkable. That bar was set at that height by God Himself. Moreover, it's fun and easy for all those boys to be perfectly chaste, since God Himself says that He:

... is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.
[1Co 10:13]

So I would trust God, and do my duty as a Pastor, which is to do everything I can to help these sheep jump over that bar! Maybe I'd start "Chastity Nights", where those young men would be invited to come to church with their sleeping bags. I'd give a short lecture on the beauty of chastity, or the wonders of married love, or the importance of doing a good act of contrition as soon as one unfortunately commits a sin, etc. Then the boys would say the Rosary in front of the Tabernacle, while I sat in the Confessional. Then, we'd all go to bed on church benches! Ouch! Not exactly comfortable, but a lot better than going to Hell! If one of us was tempted, the agreement would be that he would wake us all up, and we would all kneel down and sing a "Salve Regina" or something.

Is that so crazy? No. Soldiers in combat zones go to bed with all their cloths on, and if the enemy attacks during the night, they all wake each other up so they can fight together! Real men fight to the death, and they don't leave any of their buddies behind.

Is this sleeping bag and church bench thing described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? No. It's not a dogmatic or moral truth. It's a pastoral approach, something a Pastor does to get his flock to Heaven.

5) Conclusion

If your car is broken, it's no use saying: "We can't drive to the grocery store, so let's drive to the amusement park instead!" When your car is broken, it's broken, and it's broken for all your destinations. You have to fix your car.

It's the same thing for virtue. There is no other choice: either you tell your passions what to do, or your passions will tell you what to do. If your virtue is broken, and that your passions dominate you, there's no use "lowering the bar" of the Church's teachings. You won't be able to be happy as long as long as you haven't fixed your virtue.

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