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The traditional moral teaching of Pope Francis
In the wake of Pope Francis making Bishop McElroy a cardinal, I have seen many commentators say—I think rightly—that McElroy was chosen because of how much his pastoral and theological priorities line up with the pope’s.
However, this news has also sparked old questions and concerns about Francis’s document, Amoris Laetitia, because Bishop McElroy has been a supporter of that teaching.
The heart of Francis’s moral teaching in Amoris Laetitia is that while some actions are gravely, even intrinsically, evil, an individual is not always culpable for that action.
Two years ago I published an essay in Homiletic & Pastoral Review that explored this teaching through the lens of the kerygma and theosis. I explained how Pope Francis’s presentation of pastoral accompaniment and the law of gradualism is both deeply traditional and immensely practical.
Here’s an excerpt:
In other words, someone may fail to keep the commandments, regularly break them (e.g., an addict), or even live in an objective state of grave matter (e.g., living in an irregular marriage) and still have sanctifying grace and be progressing in holiness if they are not subjectively culpable of a mortal sin. It is entirely possible that the circumstances of a person’s life can limit their freedom to follow the moral law even if they know the moral law.
God meets each one of us precisely where we are in the midst of our circumstances and weaknesses and leads us forward step by step. We do not — we cannot — meet God halfway or do anything to earn his help. God descends to our wounded state to save us, changing our desires, empowering us, and calling us forward — but we must respond to this work that God is doing in us. This process of growing in holiness is what the Church is referring to when she speaks of the “law of gradualism.” To be clear, this is not a “gradualism of the law.” The objective order of God’s creation does not change depending on the weaknesses or circumstances of individual persons.
Further, it is precisely through our conscience that the Lord speaks to us, both telling us when we are too weak to keep the commandments and what concrete actions he wants us to take next:
“Conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.” (Amoris Laetitia 303)
Read the whole thing here: https://www.hprweb.com/2020/07/i-will-give-you-a-new-heart/