There is always a tension in the Church between the pastoral and doctrinal approach

Truth and love go together, writes Francis Phillips

Having read excerpts from the Holy Father’s now celebrated interview with Fr Antoni Spadaro SJ in the Jesuit periodic La Civilta Cattolica, and then digested some of the fall-out resulting from it, I was very relieved to watch Michael Voris’s take on the whole matter in The Vortex for September 24.

I say “relieved” because as those who watch The Vortex know, Voris can be quite heavy-handed in his way of dealing with Church affairs, laying about him like an Old Testament warrior and attacking the Church’s enemies – inside and outside the institution – with equal determination.

In this presentation he makes the obvious point – naturally not raised in the media – that there is a “tension” in living out the Catholic way of life: this makes for seeming contradictions which are not contradictions at all, but simply paradoxes. The secular press, admittedly, finds such paradoxes hard to understand or stomach; “contradictions” make better news and are simpler to grasp by a spiritually uninformed readership.

Voris points out with regard to the papal interview, that there is always a “tension” in the Church between the pastoral and doctrinal approach. Both, he emphasises, are essential and to try to divide them creates a false dichotomy. There is no opposition between God’s justice – the doctrinal aspect, if you like – and his mercy – the pastoral approach. (Mind you, as I type this, I wonder if mercy doesn’t trump justice: eleventh hour sinners who repent are just as rewarded as those who have been toiling in the fields all day. This, humanly speaking, is unjust but still a great comfort to some of us.)

However, Voris does voice “deep concern” at the interview – because, as faithful Catholics know, in recent decades Church leaders have tended to emphasise the pastoral approach at the expense of the doctrinal; too much of the carrot, Voris might have said, and not enough of the stick. This has lulled a generation of Catholics into thinking: what does it matter if we sin when our hearts are in the right place, God knows this and we’ll all go to heaven willy-nilly. Pope Francis doesn’t believe this heresy obviously – he’s Pope after all – but he does favour the pastoral approach. I mentioned his striking image of the Church being a “field hospital” where the wounded are brought to be healed to our parish priest this morning; he gave me a significant look and said “It’s also a hospital for mental patients.” Make of that what you will.

In an earlier Vortex broadcast, Voris states he doesn’t think the Pope is going to change his style of communicating; as my parish priest put it carefully, “He talks a lot.” Voris thinks Pope Francis needs “kind counsel” in the Vatican (advising him not to talk so much perhaps?)

Joseph Meaney, in Crisis Magazine for 25th September, gives his own nuanced response to Voris’s concern: “The challenge for Pope Francis may be not only to reach out successfully with a strong Catholic appeal to those who are very far from Christ, but to also encourage the faithful in the trenches of the culture war at the same time.”

He means that nothing had changed in the Church’s moral teachings and that truth and love must always go together. I see another tension between these two on the horizon.