Admonishing the Sinner? Really?

Many have responded defensively to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” by drawing distinctions between judging and correcting such as set forth in USCCB guidelines regarding the Spiritual Works of Mercy, specifically addressing admonishing the sinner.

That distinction between judging & correction is helpful.

Let me offer another between correcting & instructing.

When forming the faithful, instructing them through catechetics, homiletics, parenting & modeling, it can certainly be sufficient to cite church teachings & authorities, especially regarding general precepts.

However, merely asserting such stances is insufficient, when presuming to correct others, especially regarding thornier moral objects, e.g. the bioethical realities of life, gender & sexuality.

When “correcting” coreligionists & others with whom we may disagree, in order not to arrogate a level of authority beyond one’s theological & philosophical ken, one has the further responsibility of journeying with them to a deeper understanding of the faith & morals at stake.

For example, regarding subjective aspects of morality, one should have a better grasp of pastoral realities such as the internal forum, gradualism, moral probabilism & the prudential application of canons. Regarding the objective aspects, one must be adequately equipped to engage the differences in moral methodologies (e.g. historicist & personalist approaches to natural law), ethical pluralism & moral epistemology.

The latest popular discourse is sadly pervaded by “corrections” that reflexively and facilely claim moral relativism, situational ethics, disciplinary laxism & even heresy. For gosh sakes, there are other grounds for disagreement among moral realists!

One might argue whether & to what degree such rhetoric is corrective rather than rashly judgmental, but it manifestly does not adequately reflect the criteria set out in those USCCB guidelines. It arrogantly, sometimes hysterically, talks past its interlocutors with only a superficial grasp of both moral & pastoral realities, not to mention no appreciation, whatsoever, for how a generally fallibilist moral epistemology operates in our pilgrim church as we journey together toward the truth with hope and charity.