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SAN DIEGO, Ca.- In the spirit of sinodality  the cardinal-bishop of San Diego, Robert Walter McElroy has written a response to  an article he published in January about inclusion in the Catholic church, particularly   related to Catholics who are divorced and remaried and members of the L.G.B.T communities.

The bishop himself recognizes that his article, published in America magazine did receive both substantial support and significant opposition.

Cardinal-Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego

Now, he says, he wants to “to wrestle with some of these criticisms so that I might contribute to the ongoing dialogue on this sensitive question—which will no doubt continue to be discussed throughout the synodal process”, a process of listening.

He explains at the onset that  he seeks “ to develop more fully than I did in my initial article some important related questions”

And he presents the following: 

•the nature of conversion in the moral life of the disciple,

•the call to holiness, 

•the role of sin, 

•the sacrament of penance, 

• the history of the categorical doctrine of exclusion for sexual sins and 

• the relationship between moral doctrine and pastoral theology.

Cardinal McElroy recalls three foundational principles of Catholic teaching underlining the role of conscience in Catholic thought and how, according to Pope Francis “the church’s role is to form consciences, not replace them”.

He points out that  in the 17th century, with the inclusion in Catholic teaching of the declaration that no circumstances can mitigate the grave evil of a sexual sin “we relegated the sins of sexuality to an ambit in which no other broad type of sin is so absolutely categorized”. As he says: “there is no such comprehensive classification of mortal sin for any of the other commandments”. He asks: “Does the tradition that all sexual sins are objectively mortal make sense within the universe of Catholic moral teaching?” He continues with concrete examples in this regard:

 •It is automatically an objective mortal sin for a husband and wife to engage in a single act of sexual intercourse utilizing artificial contraception. This means the level of evil present in such an act is objectively sufficient to sever one’s relationship with God.
• It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to physically or psychologically abuse your spouse.
 •It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to exploit your employees.
 •It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to discriminate against a person because of her gender or ethnicity or religion.
 •It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to abandon your children.

In his article the bishop reminds readers that “Pope Francis is precisely calling us to appreciate the vital interplay between the pastoral and doctrinal aspects of church teaching on questions just such as these”. 

He points out that the church should mirror the pastoral action of the Lord himself. “Christ first reveals the overpowering merciful and limitless love of God. Then he moves to heal the particular form of suffering that the person is experiencing. And only then does he call the person specifically to a change in that person’s life”.

The pastoral theology of Pope Francis , Bishop McElroy says “rejects a notion of law that can be blind to the uniqueness of concrete human situations, human suffering and human limitation”.

True, there are those who oppose elements of the pastoral mission of Pope Francis. They argue that doctrine cannot be superseded by the pastoral.

Bishop McElroy writes that “It is equally important to recognize that the pastoral cannot be eclipsed by doctrine. For the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ stands at the heart of any balanced understanding of the church that we are called to be”

For him “pastoral authenticity is as important as philosophical authenticity or authenticity in law, in contouring the life of the church to the charter our Lord himself has given to us”.

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