Ideals and Norms | Russell Shaw | Catholic World Report
You can affirm the truth of a moral doctrine while at the same time undercutting it in practice—by treating the doctrine as an ideal rather than a norm.
Lately the idea has been gaining currency among some responsible conservative Catholics that unless the synod of bishops or the Pope specifically repudiates a settled Church doctrine—which is highly unlikely—there’s no immediate cause for alarm. I wish it were that simple, but it isn’t.
Philip Lawler, paraphrasing Ross Douthat, gives this summary account of the viewpoint in question: “The tensions between the Pope and doctrinal conservatives could become enormously important if the Pope makes an effort to change established Church teaching. Unless and until that happens…it’s a gross exaggeration to say that the conflict is tearing up the Church.”
And, one might add, since that effort to change Church teaching almost certainly isn’t in the cards, what’s to worry?
Alas, this way of thinking could be an unintended invitation to complacency. For it’s possible sincerely to affirm the truth of a moral doctrine while at the same time undercutting it in practice. The way to do that is to treat the doctrine as an ideal rather than a norm.
Right here it is important to say that I don’t know exactly what Pope Francis thinks about all this. What I do know is that he has said repeatedly that, as a loyal son of the Church, he has absolutely no intention of overturning any Catholic doctrine. In saying this, he obviously means it, and I applaud him for that.
At the same time, Francis also has provided two synods as forums in which people who wish to divorce pastoral practice from doctrine and treat the doctrine as an ideal rather than a norm have been given the opportunity to publicize and press their view.