What the holy father is perhaps unwittingly calling for is contrary to good pastoral care.
It frustrates and saddens me to hear the Holy Father mischaracterize “pastoral care,” especially where reception of holy communion is concerned. Pastoral care is supposed to bridge the divide between Church teaching and a soul who acts and speaks in opposition to it, leading the person gradually from their error to the correct teaching of the Church.
But what the holy father is perhaps unwittingly calling for is contrary to good pastoral care.
Reported by CNA – “Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Catholic Church is firm in its stance on abortion because ‘abortion is murder,’ and urged priests to be pastoral rather than political when faced with the question of who can receive communion.’
I see what the pope is trying to accomplish, but I disagree with his application of the principle of pastoral care. Because while he is concerned about the pastoral care of pro-choice politicians who defiantly present themselves for communion, he effectively ignores the pastoral care of the rest of the faithful who are scandalized by this offense against the Body of Christ. The Holy Father’s wish for priests to be “pastoral rather than political” (which itself is a political statement) when considering who can receive communion comes at the cost of good pastoral care for others in the parish and arguably throughout the Church.
To be pastoral is to be a good shepherd of souls, leading a person gradually from error to truth; from being “lost” to being returned to the fold. It takes time, consideration, patience, and mercy. But if we mislead the rest of the flock in the course of reclaiming the lost sheep, we have failed.
When it comes time to administer Holy Communion, what message does the shepherd send to the sheep when he gives communion to someone who is publicly and persistently in defiance of Church teaching? The message being sent is, “The Church (or I) doesn’t take this teaching very seriously anyway.” Or “The Church doesn’t take Holy Communion very seriously. Don’t sweat it!” The faithful receive and internalize this message. It has the potential to deteriorate their faith in the real presence and their recognition of the teaching authority of the Church.
But more immediately, it wrongly teaches them that there needn’t be a question of worthiness when receiving communion. They perceive that a person doesn’t have to be in a state of grace to receive communion and that the sacrament of reconciliation is unnecessary. Is it any wonder why communion lines are so long while lines to the confessional are so short, if there’s a line at all?
St. Paul was not a liar when he wrote to the Corinthians, saying “anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord” or that when someone receives communion unworthily, they are “eating and drinking his own condemnation.”
Out of feigned pastoral concern for pro-choice politicians, we are leading the rest of the sheep astray by a flawed philosophy of “pastoral care” that lacks faith and integrity. That isn’t good pastoral care, it’s politics, and at its heart, it is a betrayal of the entire fold.
A pastor is a pastor of all the faithful, not just a pastor of the lost sheep. The holy father himself said, “But is [the pastor] also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is”. By that same guidance, the pastor of souls is the pastor not only of the pro-abortion politician at communion; he is also the pastor of every other person in that Church who witnesses the scandal of that pro-abortion politician given communion. Good pastoral care would be for the priest to refuse Holy Communion to that politician. It would send a clear message to both that politician and the rest of the faithful; that the Church takes the Holy Eucharist, her own teaching, and the teaching of scripture very seriously.
The pope is very concerned about the pastoral care of lost sheep, but I wish he would be just as worried about every other sheep who are equally in need of good leadership, clear teaching, and whose souls need the protection of good, pastoral shepherds.