305. For this reason, a
pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those
living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s
bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings,
on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and
superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”.349
..”natural law could
not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose
themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective
inspiration for the deeply personal350 process of making
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that
in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or
fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace,
can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving
the Church’s help to this end.351
certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to
remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but
rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November
2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I
would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but
a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid.,
By thinking that
everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of
and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.
Let us remember that “a
small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to
God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day
without confronting great difficulties”.352
pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this
306. In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in
living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the
via caritatis must be clearly heard.
Fraternal charity is
the first law of Christians (cf. Jn 15:12; Gal
Let us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture:
“Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins”
(1 Pet 4:8);
“Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to
the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (Dan 4:24);
“As water extinguishes a blazing ire, so almsgiving atones for sins”
The Logic of pastoral mercy
307. In order to avoid all
misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist
from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur. “
308. At the same
time, from our awareness of the weight of mitigating circumstances
– psychological, historical and even biological –
it follows that “without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a
need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal
growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy,
which spurs us on 355to do our best”.
I understand those who
prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.
But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness
which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness,
a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always
does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the
mud of the street”.356
The Church’s pastors, in proposing
to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching,
must also help them to treat the weak with compassion,
avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.
The Gospel itself tells
us not to judge or condemn
(cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37).
us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us
from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality
of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness.
Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated”.357
The Bride of Christ must
pattern her behavior after the Son of God who goes out to everyone with358out
that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the ninety-nine.
He loves them all.
On the basis of this realization,
it will become possible for “the balm of mercy to reach everyone, believers
and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in
310. We cannot forget that “mercy is not only the working of the
it becomes a criterion for knowing who his true children are.
In a word, we are called to show mercy because mercy was first 360shown
… For “mercy is the very
foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be
caught up in the tenderness which she shows to believers; nothing in her
preaching and her witness to the world can 361be lacking in
It is true that at times “we act as arbiters of grace rather than
But the Church is not a tollhouse;
it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for 362everyone,
with all their problems”.
At times we find it hard to make
room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.364
We put so
many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real
significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel.
312. This offers us a framework and a setting which help us
cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues.
Instead, it sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment filled with
which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope,
and above all integrate.
That is the mindset which should
prevail in the Church and lead us to “open our hearts to those living on the
outermost fringes of society”.366
I also encourage the Church’s
pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere
desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place
in the Church.