Pondering”Gradualism”and the”Midterm”Report

"St Peter's Square, Vatican City - April 2007" by Diliff - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
“St Peter’s Square, Vatican City – April 2007” by Diliff – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0via Wikimedia Commons.

The so-called “midterm” report of the Synod is out. Please remember, it is only a rough draft and the final report may in fact look very different. Frankly, I am not sure why we are even being permitted to look at a rough draft. Nevertheless, presuming the Pope is serious about inviting discussion, let me consider a certain aspect of the report and a few particulars.

A governing principle that seems to permeate the report’s reflections is one that some refer to as “gradualism.” As a pastoral strategy, gradualism can be an effective, even necessary approach in order to lead people more deeply into the moral and spiritual life of the Church. However, as with any pastoral strategy, there are serious concerns and pitfalls to avoid.

What is gradualism? While I myself have never personally called it this, gradualism is a way in which we meet people where they are and seek gradually to draw them more deeply into the true life of a Christian. All of us who have journeyed toward Christ realize that we have we have not always been where we are today, and that future growth is necessary. Growth usually happens in stages and by degrees, ideally leading us more deeply to Christ.  

Perhaps an analogy involving a doctor and patient may help. Suppose a doctor meets a man in his late 50s who presents with a large number of health issues. There are many things wrong with the man (obesity, hypertension, diabetic tendencies, pulmonary and cardiac issues, etc.). Many aspects of the man’s lifestyle (drinking and eating to excess, poor diet, smoking, lack of exercise, etc.) may be contributing to this deterioration in his health. Seldom does a doctor give a patient a list of 25 things to do immediately. Such a “prescription” might leave the patient discouraged and unlikely to comply. So most doctors choose to chip away at the problem. What are some small changes that the patient can reasonably make in the next month? Perhaps it is beginning to take short walks, or making small  changes in his diet.  And thus the doctor begins with what he thinks is reasonable and achievable right away, and then gradually draws the patient to a more healthy lifestyle and better health. Small changes can eventually lead to a lot of progress.

In the pastoral ministry, similar strategies are often employed and they sometimes make good sense. People who show up at the front door of the rectory (or at our RCIA or marriage preparation programs) often present in a state of extensive spiritual disrepair. Many unhealthy and sinful moral issues or spiritually irregular practices are evident. Many have also been influenced by modern errors and misinformation. In many cases, the best place for a priest to begin is with a conversation, laying a foundation of trust that will assist the person in being conformed once again to the truth of the Gospel. During these conversations, the priest can clarify doubts and errors, display careful reasoning based on Scripture, and explain why we teach certain things. This approach can inspire repentance from sinful habits or patterns.

Priests and other pastoral leaders engage in this process frequently even if we don’t use the term “gradualism.” Not everyone is ready to go right into the confessional. Most people must be carefully prepared and led back to the truth. It is obviously a process that will vary considerably from person to person depending on his or her needs.

However, as with any pastoral strategy, there are pitfalls that must be avoided. Here are a few concerns that the practice of so-called gradualism might raise:

1. Gradualism works best when the one who administers it remains committed to seeing the whole process through and is not simply trying to evade the difficult work of restoring people. Again, for example,  the doctor who begins in small ways to help a person to better health must remain deeply aware of how serious things like heart disease, pulmonary disease, etc. are. Well-trained doctors must have a proper sense of urgency for the overall goal of actually restoring health. Today in the Church, however, it is not certain that a similar urgency is evident among the laity, the rank and file clergy, and I would suppose even some bishops.

However, the prevalence of “universalism” (the unbiblical view that all are saved in the end no matter what) in the Church has led to a profound lack of urgency. Very few in pastoral leadership today have a strong sense of concern about the fact that so many people are confused, are in darkness, and are living in serious, unrepentant sin. In the midst of a great moral crisis, many pulpits remain strangely silent and most parishes seem more focused on the next chicken dinner or the upcoming fundraiser than about how to reach out to those who live in darkness.

It is very troubling, akin to a doctor suddenly saying, “Well, heart disease, cancer, etc. are not really big deals, so in the end it doesn’t really matter whether we do anything or not.” And yet for many in the Church this is exactly the way they speak, at least implicitly. Apparently, for many, it is no big deal that people are living in great moral confusion, or that many are not coming to Mass, receiving sacraments, or explicitly confessing Christ, or that many are fornicating, divorcing, and engaging in or celebrating homosexual acts. If, as universalism implies, everyone will be saved in the end, who really cares all that much that people do these things?

This widely held pastoral stance has left many in  the Church without an appropriate sense of urgency to reach out to people who may in fact be lost.

In such a climate, gradualism is not likely to work well since there is no necessary goal to which we must urgently summon those to whom we minister.  In such a climate of little urgency, the emphasis is more on how people might feel. And even if gradualism is attempted, at some point, even in gradualism, there are difficult things that have to be said and unpopular truths that must be announced. Without that urgency to drive it, it’s hard to imagine a “gradualist” approach really moving the ball much.

Only if the priest or pastoral leader is deeply committed to the truth and is aware of the urgent need for people to live that truth, can gradualism bear the necessary fruit. Do such leaders exist? Yes, but how numerous they are is debatable in the Church today, so infected is it by universalism.

2. Gradualism as a strategy is poorly attested to in Scripture, where an urgent call to conversion and repentance is more the norm. The biblical evidence paints a picture of prophetic urgency and a strategy that strongly, even sternly asserts a clear contrast with the sinful world. The call to come away from worldly thinking is unambiguous and is to be done singularly and without lots of careful steps laid out.

For example, Jesus says, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me (John 15:18-21). And Paul admonishes,  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2).

Some will argue that Both Jesus and St. Paul were dealing with a small window of time and thus had to work urgently and in this manner. Fine. But Scripture cannot be wholly set aside as a model for evangelization. And even though our culture may prefer the “kinder, gentler” approach, and gradualism has its place, it must be balanced with other pastoral strategies that emphasize contrast and urgency.

3. Gradualism is a personal pastoral strategy, not  a global strategy. That is to say, it is directed to a specific person. The skilled pastor will have to adapt such a strategy to the specific needs of different people. Gradualism is a very complicated thing to try to pull off toward a group.

On any given Sunday, a pastor looks out upon a congregation filled with people at all different stages of spiritual and moral growth. He cannot possibly have a homily perfectly crafted to draw every one of them in stages, gradually closer to the truth. He will have to speak generally, but also very clearly, to the issues.

St. John Vianney was reputed to have remarked that a pastor should be tough in the pulpit and more gentle in the confessional. This illustrates to some degree the problem with gradualism applied to a large, diverse group such as a typical Catholic congregation. It works better as a personal strategy wherein a confessor or pastor can help a person work on particular areas in order to lay the ground for other areas. But this is very personal and varies widely from person to person. 

And this leads to the next point.

4. The cultural climate also presents challenges for the widespread use of gradualism. Generally, in these days of rapid cultural collapse and deep cynicism about biblical morality, a silent, quiet, or highly gentle approach is likely to be regarded as evidence of implicit agreement. Many today will say, “See, I went to this parish or that confessor and no one said anything to me about what I’m doing; no one seems concerned. So I guess it’s all right.” Thus, gentleness is confused with approval.

The Synod “midterm,” as published, contains a lot of ambiguous language about being “welcoming” and finding what is beautiful in non-traditional expressions of family and sexuality. OK, I get it; even a broken clock is right twice a day. And in certain personal settings, we can sit down with people and find areas of agreement. But when “gradualist” notions are issued to a wide, unbelieving, skeptical world such broad notions are subject to a thousand interpretations and may signal to some that the Church has “moved” in her doctrinal stance. Gradualism must be more carefully articulated. Signaling this approach without proper distinctions clouds more than it clarifies; it blurs the Church and her teaching.

Thus, when the document speaks about homosexuals and being open to the gifts they bring, to whom is it really referring? To those homosexuals who are living celibately? Or to those openly living in unions and engaging in activity that the Catechism calls gravely disordered and sinful? One can surely see that celibate homosexuals heroically living chastely in a world gone mad would indeed have the gift of heroic witness to offer, among other gifts. I am less certain that whatever gifts an openly practicing homosexual would bring would not be eclipsed by the scandal and confusion caused by that open practice.

When the document speaks of “accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation …”  and goes on to state rather generally that many such “unions” have “reached a notable level of stability through a public bond … characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring …” one wonders what “gradualism” is necessary for seemingly so lovely a thing. It sounds like the Synod is equivocating between true marriage and the endless arrangements of the world that clearly vary from God’s plan.

One can see a pastor working quietly with a cohabiting couple and encouraging them to validate their union, even telling them that their relationship appears beautiful and strong and that the Church’s blessing will make it even better. But for a Roman document to use such broad and affirming language to an unspecified audience is to invite the notion that affection equals approval.

Our modern culture is not usually going to understand these “outreaches” as an invitation to come to Christ, but rather as a capitulation by the Church to the status quo. The subtle approach of gradualism does not translate well to a culture that takes a mile when the Church offers an inch.

The better approach is that reputed of St. John Vianney: the Church should be clear in the pulpit and work quietly and in stages with people who struggle to meet the norms (and that is all of us, really). Let the norms and teachings of the Church be clear. Let local pastors and clergy work carefully within guidelines to clear obstacles, apply canonical remedies, and draw people (gradually) through preaching and teaching to a deeper adherence to the true and clear teaching of Christ and His Church.

Gradualism has its place: as a local and very personalized strategy under the direction of Church norms. I do not think it is viable as a worldwide pastoral strategy, one which will surely be misunderstood and likely misapplied.

65 Replies to “Pondering”Gradualism”and the”Midterm”Report”

  1. This call for gradualism seems to be a bit of a non sequitur. Remarrieds and gays and contracepters cannot be expected to become perfect saints in one giant leap. OK. So what does that have to do with anything??

    All of us are sinners. All of us are “disordered.” The spiritual life is for all of us a journey where we all need to take many steps, one step at a time. Meanwhile, the Church has always recognized that you need to go meet people where they are. And it has always been understood that everyone has something good to offer, even Roman soldiers, even pagan Greeks. Augustine goes so far as to point out that since everything that God creates is good and God created the angel who fell and whom we call “Satan” that even Satan has some good in him.

    To say that we should be gradual, encouraging elements of pre-existing good, when it comes to marriage, family, human sexuality in principle is not saying anything that doesn’t apply to every other human being on earth. So what’s the point is raising it??

    Whatever the reason, the consequence is nothing more than confusion and more confusion. It’s 1972 again. And it is likely to simply confirm people in their error, to encourage them to keep on doing what they are doing.

    Reports say that after the report, someone questioned the analogy between the longstanding teaching that there are elements of truth outside the Church (in Protestant denominations, etc.) and the statement that there are elements of truth and love, etc. in “irregular” situations. Let’s accept the analogy for the sake of argument. Now let’s apply gradualism to it. How successful has gradualism with respect to the Church seeking to attract non-Catholic Christians? We’ve been gradual with the Protestants for over 500 years now. How’s it working out??

    Meanwhile, what are we likely to gain from this strategy (which has been presented as a global strategy, not as an every day individualized approach)? After offering some measure of praise on irregular situations, the report says that these situations “may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.”

    Let’s see how that plays out in the real world (since we need to “accept reality”) —
    Church: We recognize that there is some good in your cohabiting/contracepting/same sex “marriage.”
    Person: Thank you.
    Church: We invite you to now take the next step.
    Person: No thanks, I’m good. After all, you said it’s good.
    Church: But it could be even better.
    Person: It’s good enough now. Besides, what are you implying by saying I should take the next step? Are you saying there is something wrong after all? Is that what you are saying?
    Church: Well, uh. . .
    Person: If you won’t accept me, as is, without having to change, without having to take the next step, I want nothing to do with you.

    We need to accept the reality that the intended recipients of this gradualism do not want to be gradual. They are fine where they are. They do not think they need to change. And so they won’t. And so the Church will have watered down truth for no reason.

    Sorry, but people have memories. They have seen this scenario, this strategy before. And guess what? Many of them left the Church back in the 1970s precisely because Church teaching was presented to them as lukewarm, superficial, touchy-feely squishiness. That approach does not attract. It repels.

    1. Matt, I agree with you. Where is the fruit of Vatican II? The intention of Vatican II has had the opposite effect within the Catholic Church. Catholics straying from the faith in droves. Not many coming into the Church as well. We want the mercy Christ without the cross. We want forgiveness without repentance. The mercy only approach will not convict hearts, which leads to the conversion of souls. This approach also puts limits on Jesus Christ and his grace which is sufficient for all of us. We only have to cooperate with it. Was not John the Baptist the greatest prophet? And did not he proclaim repentance? Why do we expect so little from people these days? What is so special about the modern world? We are all called to transform our lives, and the soft approach will not work. Again, if this approach works, we would should see abundant and good fruit. However, we do not, and the fruit we see is not good.

  2. This Synod has introduced so much error and confusion about the problems facing the family, that I can only pray the Holy Spirit will stop this mess before things go too far. What is going on in Rome?

    1. Are you implying that the Holy Spirit has not been at work? You seem to have a highly developed sense of when the Holy Spirit is at work and when it is not.

      1. Craig,

        John is saying that the Holy Spirit is at work; however, how many prelates will listen to the Holy Spirit?
        That is all!

        Didn’t Jesus say: “I say to you, that he will quickly revenge them. But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” – Luke 18:8

        The Holy Spirit is always at work, but how many people listen to Him?

    2. Sure pray; pray all the time but take this to heart and do something:

      “Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the Bishops. It’s up to YOU, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our Bishops to be Bishops’ – Archbishop +Fulton Sheen.

  3. Thank you, monsignor, for the clarity of your explanation. Many of use are shaking our heads in disbelief at the harsh departure from truths established by Christ under the label of gradualism. I can’t remember even one saint or one passage from the bible that extolled confusion as a virtue. My personal experiences teach that when a man speaks confusingly he is hiding something he does not want me to know, or he does not understand the subject he has taken on. In line with the thinking of Pope Francis, I am smelling the sheep and the shepherds, and from the stalls of some of the shepherds there in an unreasonable stench. We sheep have the Christ given right to hear the faith in its purity. What has come from the synod thus far is confusing and suspect.

    1. I don’t think it’s confusing at all. It’s only confusing if you try to make any sense of it or try to ‘square’ it with Catholic doctrine. Otherwise, it’s all very evident and in-your-face. I truly think that the flock (what is left of it) needs to wake up, sit up, look at the evil straight in the eye and CALL IT the UNCATHOLIC EVIL IT IS.

      The hierarchy is TELLING us what they’re going to do and it’s absolutely certain that if they don’t get a hard & fast response from the laity this “gradual” steamroller will not let up. EVEN IF they get the correct response the deserve from the laity, they’re going to move ahead with the agenda anyway, but at least they’d have to do it with the vociferous protests of the laity.

      The ‘princes’ of the church need to be toppled from their pedestals by real lay Catholics. Christ, His Blessed Mother and the saints expect nothing less from us. It’s as though everyone is in a self-induced trance!!!

  4. Gradualism is one of those things you really can’t be against, but you also have to realize the abuse such as the good Msgr has done here.

    While we have to encounter people as they are, there’s also the story of Ezekiel. God tells Ezekiel that he has to reprove Israel of their sin, and if a sinner repents because of that admonishment, he will have saved his soul. Yet if Ezekiel were to say nothing (perhaps “recognize the value” that sinner brings to the table without also issuing a call to repentance), that man could die, but Ezekiel would have to answer not just for that man, but for his refusal to do his duty.

    In a majority of times today, gradualism is an excuse to avoid confronting the reality of evil, because confronting that reality would upend your entire assumption not about the world, but about the nature of the Church. Does anyone expect a bunch of self-referential clericalists (two phrases the Pope uses to describe a lot of the Church today) always focused on their career and not mercy to have a proper understanding of the Church?

    And that’s the problem we have today.

  5. Thank you, Msgr. Pope for taking the time to write a quick and timely response to the Synod’s rough draft release. When I read the rough draft earlier today I was, frankly, pretty shocked. Then I began to see the headlines in the media such as this one on CNN, “Vatican Proposes ‘Stunning’ Shift on Gays and Lesbians” and this from Huffington Post: “Vatican Proposes Dramatic Shift in Attitude Toward Gays, Same-Sex Couples.” I cannot understand why the Synod would release such a document. Surely they knew the reaction that would follow?
    The last thing the world needs right now is confusion coming from the church! I am so disappointed in the bishops’ decision to release this rough draft. What in the world is going on?

  6. The Lord does work gradually (from the perspective of human history) at the MACRO level. But, in relation to human history, we seek to work quickly at the MICRO level. So, I can see the Church taking a gradual and very steady approach to healing the Body of Christ; I can see pastors taking a more direct approach to healing individual souls.

    The point here is that “gradualism” needs to be defined from a particular perspective (macro or micro) and in relation to a particular timeframe (human history or an individual’s life span).

  7. Thank you Monsignor for your insight. I am at a loss over what has been written about the synod thus far. As cited above, it is being trumpeted in the secular media as a change in how the Church handles gays/lesbians and “same sex marriages.” I understand that the Church needs to educate the people. However, we have been so poorly catechized (I was born in the 60s) that I do not know that the people will understand. Furthermore, with pastors saying, “unless you have committed a moral sin (without discussion thereof) you don’t need to go to confession- the Eucharist removes the stain of sin.” The homilies about sin are few and far between. I don’t see how things are going to get better.

    As far as economic or social reasons for cohabitation, those reasons don’t exist in the U.S. How is that going to be addressed?

    Bottom line, I think this is going to result in more confusion. I was worried when the Deacon at my sister’s parish gave a homily about disciplines and doctrines and how things might be changing after the synod. I think I was right to be worried.

  8. Can we just be honest with ourselves? The report is heresy. The Church today is as bad off as it was during the high point of the Arian heresy. Perhaps worse because of the the media. May God grant us saintly leaders and soon.

    1. Gradualism- looks like sparkly new, but peel back just a little and there it is: relativism…or is gradualism the horse that relativism just rode in on? Appreciated your ponder over why a rough draft would be released? Back to the Catechism for the Truth. Narrow path please…help…us…find…

    2. I don’t think we can or should blame the media. Can you truly fault them for reporting on the same, constant theme on this moral issue during the papacy of Francis, based on direct statements from the pope or Vatican officials appointed by the pope?

      We need to come to grips that there is an extremely liberal pope in power with an extremely liberal agenda on this issue, and it will be fought with sharp and savy communication skills by powerful men. After recognizing that, then we should defend true Catholic teaching as best we can from the local level despite that challenge.

      It’s a hard pill to swallow, but popes come and go. Doctrine and moral theology does not.

      1. I didn’t mean to imply the media is to blame for this crisis, only that instantaneous, worldwide communication amplifies the negative effects of this heretical document and the voices of those who wrote it.

        1. @ Kenneth and Nate:
          What? “It’s a hard pill to swallow but popes come and go” and “worldwide communication amplifies the negative effects “??
          How should we swallow the pill? Do we wait it out until the second coming? Remind me not to ask you for help when my town is being razed and pillaged.
          Ever hear the saying, “The media is the message”?
          But, hey, I’m being uncharitable aren’t I? Lets just chalk it up ONCE AGAIN as being a BIG accident (because most believe in the accidental theory of history) and lets ONCE AGAIN believe the bishops have no idea how this got so out of hand and they are simply so misunderstood because we idiots out here in te-levi-sion land are taking words that they’ve spoken or written out of context…yeah, that’s it…it’s our fault they are so misunderstood.
          Oh yes, I forgot, perhaps it’s just another mistranslation –those Italian-English dictionaries are so unreliable. I mean Francis is such an astute student of Latin and he simply didn’t want to make any of the other church princes look bad due to their inability to read/write Latin, thus the reason for his tossing Latin into the garbage bin and opting for the Italian, which, lets face it, is just so easily mistranslated. But that too must be our fault because we’re Pelagians.
          Hey, someone call Catholic News Agency and ask them to suggest to Federico Lombardi (you know, through their back channels) that the Vatican may want to try pig Latin for the next pow-wow of graduality scheduled for 2015 when they gradually let us all know that we all can sit and gradually SPIN for all they care, because these changes are going through and it’s too bad, and ooh-so-sad if you’re Catholic because THEY aren’t Catholic, but they DO wear the robes, suckers…which, I’ll give you a heads-up for 2015 is “citrullo” in Italian.

  9. Thank you for sharing such an awesome response about the document released today by the Synod We, the regular parishioners, need immediate information from the Church to help us interpret these documents wisely before the media bombards us with mediocre headlines. I took advantage of this Columbus holiday to read the entire document and some of the various biased responses floating around the web and thankfully I found your contribution.

    I want to say that the first thing that came to mind when reading about gradualism was the words of our Lord at the end of Matthew when he commissions the disciples to go out into the world to “make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe what I have commanded you.” It seems to me like the Lord knew that we needed [constant] teaching and that not many of us would become perfect faithful disciples right away but only in time as if proposing some kind of never ending educational process.

    You are so courageous by outlining that there is a great “lack of urgency” in the Church able to bring us to a deeper relationship with God, and especially when it comes to reaching out to those that are far away or will soon be far away. [“Very few in pastoral leadership have a strong sense of concern as to the fact that so many people are confused, are in darkness, and living in serious unreported sin. In the midst of a great moral crisis many pulpits remain strangely quiet and most parishes see more focused on the next chicken dinner, or the upcoming fundraiser, than about how to reach out to those who live in darkness in this present evil age.]

    Being in the Neocatechumenal Way for 25 years, Sacred Heart Parish (1989-90); Assumption Church
    (1991-93); St. Thomas More (1994-2002), and at Our Lady of Sorrows ever since, I can connect this gradualism to nothing else but to a serious Christian initiation that should last one’s lifetime on this earth. In the small communities of the NCW, this gradualism as I understood it does take place in a profound way where the Pastor is actually in touch with the reality of the members of the communities, and even more, he is assisted by a team of lay catechists who help guide this itinerary. I’ve seen people with different circumstances gradually being brought to the sacraments with a lot of care and without rushing. Many marriages come to better observe the teachings of the Church, regarding the sacrament of marriage in itself, the sanctity of marriage life and procreation for example, with great zeal and love. I cannot think of how many pastors would benefit from these small communities who will in time help their pastors reach out to those not fully in tune with doctrine but who are genuinely thirsting for the love and truth that comes from God and was entrusted to the Catholic Church.

    Paragraph 31 of this document is very promising because it speaks of the need for an Itinerary of Faith, a.k.a Christian initiation, as a foundation for marriages:

    “Christian marriage cannot only be considered as a cultural tradition or social obligation, but has to be a vocational decision taken with the proper preparation in an itinerary of faith, with mature discernment…”

    I’m so interested in this Synod, perhaps because as a parent of 5 ½ kids my wife and I hope that the teachings of the Church may resonate and become a real experience in our lives and in the lives of many so that our kids generations may have the spiritual tools to fight the cultural changes of the near future which look so scary.

    Thank you for being so dedicated to the Church in this diocese by reaching out through this blog.

  10. My son just excitedly told me that the “Pope supports gay marriage now”.

    His mother and I separated when she announced she was a lesbian and completely changed her moral stance on sexual issues. She now lives with her third girlfriend. She has turned him into a gay marriage cheerleader and he has emotionally declared that he will stand for “marriage equality”.

    He is twelve and hasn’t really thought it through I know, but It is disheartening all the same that his mother’s brainwashing has been so effective. His response is completely emotional and he can’t be reached by rational discourse, so I wait for opportunities to educate.

    I love the Church and have been trying to live as Christ would want and as the Church teaches. I believe the Church espouses the only sane worldview. I have been trying to catechize my sons and maintain my sanity in catastrophic situation.

    It does not help when the media distort the reports coming out of the synod. It does not help when the church does not reiterate it’s clear teaching on same-sex marriage so as to dispel any rumors.

    I resort, as always, to prayer, but with a sore heart.

  11. I find it interesting that everyone’s angst over this is centered not around what was actually said, which no one seems to disagree with, but around how it is or will be interpreted. We can make guesses, even very good guesses as to how folks will interpret this, and we might be right, but what are they supposed to say? Yes, I would prefer silence on their part too, but if they’re going to speak, they have to say what they actually talked about, in a general and anticipatory way, looking forward to its resolution next year, which they did. But they can’t and shouldn’t have to twist their words around to something that will be more palatable to the conservatives and more austere to the liberals, which it seems is what everyone wants. This is the era of Divine Mercy, and I think it’s time we were all taught what that really means. I probably sound like a liberal, but I just wonder if people are really ready for mercy.

  12. Should those of us who have worked so hard to leave behind the ravages of- complete blindness to sin- remain silent now while we watch our brethren on the Road to Jherico lying on the side of the road in oppression? I guess we know now why the priest walked on by… and it took the Good Samaritan to come along and care to help that poor sick soul. How many souls are in need of the TLC that can only come from Truth- here is someone who knew: St. Edith Stein: “Do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.”

  13. So far, the only gradualism I see is the secularization of Catholicism… the destruction of true Catholic belief and practice from within.

    Maybe the Cardinals need to take a week or two to quietly kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I am sure Christ, our King, if allowed, would influence their minds and hearts in a very positive and meaningful way. After all, without Him hot topics can have hot consequences.

  14. I have a feeling the synod could be a sellout pulling plays right of the liberals manual for passing the affordable healthcare act. Gradualism becomes the new code word for incrementalism and we should accept it in order to find out what is in it. You can keep your established Catholic faith if you like it but we need to provide a method to include those not covered by the present policies. We shouldn’t enforce our present Catholic immigration policies to be a citizen of the Church because such borders are restricting the salvation of those culturally different. We need a comprehensive doctrine of faith. The synod of bishops are about as reliable in ethically establishing changes in doctrines of the faith as the CDC (Center for Disease Control) is in establishing protocols to protect the citizens of this country from Ebola while not restricting those carrying the disease from entering from outside our established borders. I have gone through the prior changes and ramifications of the Church since my birth in 1951. I have worked in the healthcare field since 1974 and experienced the changes up to the present. I was born and live in Dallas and experienced the impact of inclusive multiculturalism though gradualism. It doesn’t work! You corrupt the established society and end up with banana republic and a degenerate demoralized state. The CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) established protocols no more prevented the spread of Ebola here in Dallas than the synod of bishops will improve the environment of the Church for the sake of those ” LIVING IN A STATE OF SIN!”

    1. Breaking News: Cardinal Burke is OUT as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura by none other than Papa Bergoglio. Seems the Cardinal told the media, “Pope Francis is doing great harm to the Church.” One hour later, gone. The Holy Roman Catholic Church is dead, conquered by Martin Luther. Even the SSPX is being sucked into modernism. Next stop on the road to Hell, denial of transubstantiation.
      To the catacombs, Rad Trads! The next few centuries are going to be rough!

    1. ‘Is the Church now teaching that “homosexual” is in fact an ontology after all?’ I was wondering about that as well.

      Thanks for the link. The article is interesting; but, for all its railing against the ‘invention’ of homosexuality in the 19th century, certainly we have all had the experience of meeting people who experience sexual attraction primarily and/or exclusively to persons of the same sex. Calling such people ‘homosexual’ does not seem unreasonable to me. The Church therefore has to do something about those people. How far to go in affirming the homosexuality of such people is still in some respects an open question.

      Obviously, the Church cannot affirm genital or erotic homosexual acts. That question is answered and closed. But if people primarily experience attraction to people of the same sex; and at the same time, put to death by the Spirit the lusts of the flesh; then, is the attraction itself something that the Church can value as being part of the diversity of man? Or is this orientation, purified from a desire for genital and erotic homosexual acts, still objectively disordered?

  15. Mercy is found only in Truth. It does not exist except in truth.

    What is being floated by the Kasperites is not truth. It is very
    scandalous that a Pope would encourage such ideas as
    somehow worthy of consideration.

    What is being proffered is a repudiation of the teaching of
    Jesus, cloaked in newspeak and given to a few generations
    of post christian, Catholic via inertia, heathens.

    The literal PANDEMONIUM is everywhere. God help us.

  16. What seems to be missing here – akin to the healthy lifestyle change- is there is still a seminal moment where the unhealthy person must commit to conversion. It may take months of dietary and lifestyle changes, but there is always that aha moment when the individual desires conversion. Further, gradualism implies progression on a path. There must be an definitive start point, a destination, and movement or there is no journey.

  17. The early evangelists had a sense of urgency as Msgr. Pope pointed out. Perhaps that was because life is uncertain: “You fool! This very night your soul shall be required of you.”

    Apparently, our shepherds believe we’ll all live to a ripe old age, hence there is no need to repent and believe the Gospel until our deathbeds.


  18. One of my sons is a physician; a specialist; a surgeon. He took the Hippocratic Oath, “first do no harm”, which is his standard. Sadly, that oath is no longer mandatory. As a physician he has practiced a form of pastoral sensitivity toward his patients. The reality, however, is that most patients want a quick fix and are not interested in reforming their lifestyles. Why?…because most are not WILLING to change. Instead they want their doctor to change. Just fix it, is their cry. As Catholics we have a standard, a holy standard which is our creed, our doctrine, our belief system based on the Ten Commandments, the first of which states, “Love the Lord, your God…” and let no false god deceive you. In none of the commentaries I have read, nor in the protests of those who rightly claim that our sacred beliefs and consequent practices are non-negotiable, have any referred to the Ten Commandments. They are from God and they are Commandments meaning they are His conditions and precepts given to us. He is God; we are His people; not the other way around. Pride is the sole source of all sin. Lucifer was cast out of heaven because he said: “I will not serve!” He wanted, and still wants to be like God. Don’t be deceived by anyone, regardless of who he is, who teaches a false doctrine.

  19. Gradualism a.k.a Frog in the boiling pot of water-ism where would we be if Our Lord did not drive out the demons from St. Mary Magdalene or if St. Paul did not bitterly detest his former life and go to spend his every waking new life letting souls know.
    Please we must must pray for Pope Francis. He is in a very frightening situation to have placed the lead up to this synod anywhere near the hands of Cardinal Kaspar. Eucharistic adoration and deep prayer, sacrifice, fasting and alms giving is needed for Our Church right this very minute. Souls are at stake. If you have eyes to see the sifting like wheat then please pray for The beautiful Church Our Lord gave to us. Examine your conscience every thought every moment examine attachments- give them over-ordered to God through the Catechism of The Catholic Church. There is no society which has ever survived homosexuality in rampant use. There is no time in Our Church where we have ever been open to this lifestyle in any way and St. Paul and St. Peter spilled their blood under Nero for trying to help souls to know the depth of gravity to this very disorder. It is hard but close your eyes and detach and realize we may need to seriously intervene Supernaturally for this pope!!! He needs us!!!

  20. From St. Gregory the Great- “…such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee who take refuge in silence when the wolf appears…When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back, and fled by remaining silent?”
    From my own experience, few pastors even seem to know what is “right”. As Cardinal Burke has pointed out, catechesis has been sorely lacking for 40-50 years. All we know how to do is to protect our turf, our own projects. The laity are effectively latch-key children and we feel the absence of sacrificial love.

    1. praise should go to Cardinal Burke…he is a leader who needs to be followed…he is on the correct course and is one I can respect.

  21. Thank you Msgr for your analysis. You tread very softly.
    I read the midterm report yesterday, and felt myself in a fog by the end of it.
    The interview this morning with Forte was even murkier, with a sinister touch.
    Your picture at the top certainly captures the scene for me—except i would make it even more unfocused.

  22. Thank you Monsignor Pope, for this very astute and calming explanation of what is going on in the Synod. You have brought order to my fears and keep me hopeful. I am actively following the issues on the table and pray that the Church does not become another USA political party. I pray for this for God and for His children. You seem to have a great understanding of the flock and what Jesus wants for us. More and more the faithful are overlooked for the unfaithful. I see this everyday at church. I always thought the Church was NOT of this world. What would Jesus want- a smaller Church with sinners practicing as best they could to follow His commandments or a larger Church of sinners doing as them please with the Church behind them?

  23. Thank you, Msgr., for speaking the truth. We do understand that this is a mid-term report, but frankly it doesn’t seem to bode well. It seems incredible that the synod reached this point so quickly. They could have saved travel time and meeting time and just released a statement: “I’m ok you’re ok.”

  24. Thank you so much for explaining gradualism. It makes good sense when you equate it to a doctor-patient relationship. The Church is truly a hospital for sinners. After going through RCIA, all I can say, that it was the beginning of the most wonderful journey … sometimes I am appalled at the things I truly didn’t know or understand, things that a cradle-Catholic would know, but I think the Holy Spirit is good not to let us become aware of ALL our sins at once. We would surely die of horror. Instead, bit by bit, by His grace and sacraments, we change and our eyes are opened again and again as we are called to greater holiness.

    Thank God for the Church and her good and holy priests. God bless you.

  25. From where I see things in my perspective, I see that gradualism as a pastoral strategy is wholly new and creative to me. But I don’t understand gradualism as involving “stages of development.” I understand gradualism not as linear but cyclical.

    A linear gradualism conveys “urgency”; it seems to be coming from a perspective of “you are a sinner; I am saved.” A linear gradualism, I fear, conveys an understanding of a Church who is a clinical psychologist who profiles a patient, prescribes steps to wholeness to the patient, checks the patient regularly following a systematic progressive program. The person of the patient in such a Church resembling a clinical psychologist is in good hands, for sure. But sad to say, in the Church, more than clinical psychology is required to approach the beautiful mystery of a person even in his state of sin or decay.

    A cyclical gradualism is what I understand to be what the synod people have in mind. A cyclical gradualism truly meets the person where he is. If the person is a sinner, the suffering that sin causes arouses in the Church its capacity to show mercy and compassion. The Church can suffer with the so-called sinner. And here and only then can the “sinner” rise to repentance, assured as he is of a Church who understands and identifies itself with his suffering. A cyclical gradualism does not place too much emphasis on the “stages of development” or of the “sense of urgency” that are part of the sinner’s transformation dynamics. It places more emphasis on the beautiful mystery of the person of the sinner, still an image and likeness of God. A cyclical gradualism certainly involves lots of hits and misses, and even of bouts of stagnation or resignation on the part of the sinner. But the Church that resembles here more like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son can still welcome the sinner. For after all the sinner is a son and not some patient of one very good clinical psychologist. Here the Church assumes more like the resemblance of Jesus who is merciful and compassionate.

    Like the good Monsignor, I am praying sincerely for the synod also. Long live our merciful, compassionate Mother Church!

  26. Okay, so I get the numbers game the bishops are trying to play. Fill the seats, the bus leaves soon. Got it.

    One little hiccup. No one is dressed to go. Sure, we can extend the olive branches to the gay and divorced population, but if I were in their shoes I would not trust it. What besides “we miss you and want you back” do we have to offer them? We aren’t saying sex outside Holy Matrimony is ok now (though a quick read if that press release might fool some into thinking we are). So what’s the point?

    The fact is, the Works of Mercy are the BEST means of bringing EVERYONE home. Jesus did not tell Peter to tell his sheep about the lunch special, He said “Feed My sheep”. When the 5,000 were hungry, Jesus did not give them a coupon book and directions to the closest Denny’s. He fed them. With food. St. Paul worked alongside the people he evangelized. Worked. With his hands not his mouth.

    We must start every evangelistic effort with the Lords Mercy in light of what people actually need.

    Also, when we try to meet the disenfranchised where they are, we walk a fine line between evangelizing and condoning. Condoning sin is a serious sin in and of itself. It is dangerous. Only a truly skilled and gifted evangilist should attempt such a feat. The rest of us should really get familiar with the Works of Mercy.

  27. Monsignor Pope, thank you for this clear and balanced explanation, and for being faithful to Christ’s teaching and example.

    Monsignor, the actions of this synod, this “gradualist” document, and some of Pope Francis’s recent statements have shaken my faith. I am in my early 40s. I am a cradle Catholic, but I have been serious about the practice of my Catholic faith since my late 20s. My wife and I have been open to life, in the face of a culture which constantly tells us not to be. We have made financial sacrifices to send our children to Catholic school, and we have striven to teach our children the fullness of the Catholic faith. We have been mindful of the poor and of those in difficult situations, by supporting various Catholic charities, as well as supporting our local crisis pregnancy center. I have been involved in religious education in my parish, and I have been active in the Catholic blogosphere and in Catholic discussion boards.

    In all that time, I have always had the assurance that whatever ill winds may blow throughout our culture, our government, or other societal institutions, I could always rely on the Catholic Church to be firm and consistent in teaching the truth, and in bringing Christ to a broken world. And so as I have watched this once largely Christian nation, the United States, slide further and further into secularism, at least I have had the comfort that the same will not — in fact, surely cannot — happen to the Catholic Church. But that comfort and assurance has been utterly shattered in recent days. Even my faith in Christ’s promises regarding His church has been severely wounded.

    My wife and I have been blessed with four boys. Since the birth of my first son, I have hoped and prayed that God would call at least one of my boys to be a priest, maybe even more than one of them. But now, at least today, when I think of encouraging one of my boys to be a priest, I feel like “what’s the point?”. And when I think of going to teach at my parish’s faith formation class tomorrow night, again I think, “what’s the point?”.

    Monsignor, if I may ask, please pray for me and for others who feel similarly, that God will somehow strengthen our faith and provide us some reassurance.

    1. Paul H.,
      I have a son who is feeling the same way. He is eighteen and has been homeschooled; he has been watching some of the secular media. He just can’t get past the notion that they could and would, out and out lie.
      I will pray for you and for all who are shaken. I can’t say I’m shaken, but I am horrified at the thought of so many people who will be led astray, who are already weakened by the culture and will think it impossible, like my son, that the media does lie. Even if things appear to be so, the Holy Spirit will act and we will get through this time just like the Church has gotten through other murky times. Please, trust. It will help all the Church if you do.

  28. We must continue to pray for this synod. The air of liberalism and secularism seem to be pervading and prevalent in our hierarchy. It is as seem that the chattering class, the media had influenced their outlook. Come, oh HOLY SPIRIT fill the hearts of your faithful that we may renew the face of this lowly earth, YOUR footstool.
    Monsignor Pope, agree I must with you that gradualism can be applied in the day to day nitty gritties but not in the general worldwide pastoral strategy. Otherwise, to succumb and cave in to the demands of the present culture, the Church become a tragedy that does not uphold the Teachings of Our LORD JESUS CHRIST. YHWH RUAH!!!

  29. Even though this latest document is not binding and could be revised, the fact that it is issued out the Vatican at all is troubling.

  30. Frankly, I am not sure why we are even being permitted to look at a rough draft.

    My guess is twofold – bit of a trial balloon to gauge reaction, see what can be pushed and with how much resistance. Second is a conditioning exercise – toss out something that stirs up trouble (lio, as some might say), get people talking and discussing it. Merely asking the question gives some legitimacy to either side. It will be talked about for the next year, until our soundbite blipvert culture becomes desensitized to it. Regardless of the final document in 2015, the acceptance of these irregular realtionships is “out there,” and like the teaching against contraception, will be honored more in its breach.

  31. Read the draft, read the various blog posts like here, read the mass media reports.

    Result: I now know where the closest SSPX facility to me is. It’s in Richmond.

    Well see what the final report says, but forewarned is forearmed.

  32. Monsignor Pope,

    Do you think Gradualism is a good approach to take with rapists and pedophiles?

    Thank you,


  33. Thank you, Monsignor, for explaining the ptifalls of gradualism. I am upset with the Relatio and pray that the Holy Spirit would guide the synod participants in everything they do and say.

  34. Thank you, Monsignor. This is brilliant! Especially #1 where you examine universalism. That is the crux of the matter, and this is why Ralph Martin’s book, Will Many Be Saved? is necessary reading in a Catholic society which has come under the sway of universalism.

  35. God bless you Msgr. Pope. i, like many others, was not aware of this concept of universal salvation. As soon as my eyes read your explanation of the root cause of our spiritual emptiness, it hit home hard. What a dangerous and deadly path our beloved Church has set out on. As comforting and as reassuring as it sounds it is pure poison.

    Inviting spiritual sloth and all manner of deadly sin. Now i becomes clear why so many of us refuse, absolutely refuse to look at Jesus Christ on that Cross or contemplate His sufferings. Believing this diabolic garbage of course negates the need. Just what the adversary wants. The key things described by the Christ for salvation through metanoia, are repentance and belief in His teachings.

    True metanoia always encompasses embracing the Cross, for it is there that we discover through repentance, shame and an informed deep gratitude for all He has done for His unworthy children.These are the spikes that are driven into the very core of our beings, that kill us and bring forth a new and opened heart and soul to God.

    Now again thanks to your clarifying words, i understand why in my ministry, i encounter so few willing to reach for the prize and run their races.people often opine that ministry online is a flat and light thing. They are so wrong! Through a very small network of priests, such as yourself, we who heeded God’s call to ministry make a bigger impact then most could dream of. For a lame and elderly widow, who loves and serves her God and yours, the consolations brought by such support, have helped me through serious attacks and persecutions.

    I thank God for you every day and you are always in my daily prayers.

  36. Matt said, “Even satan has some good in him”! Really! Are you Catholic, Matt? Maybe we should gradually try to convert the old guy?

  37. This is another take on gradualism:

    ‘Always we have a clear and precise aim towards which we strive, for one of the great merits of Communism is that nothing is left to chance’ Joseph Stalin

    Freely insert any of the following rather than the word “Communism” in the quote above: Modernism, rabbinical Talmudism, Secular Humanism, Satanism, Freemasonry..

  38. This has been overlooked and obviously needs to be driven home:
    Outwardly, the hierarchy uses the term graduality/gradualism in reference to and as a method of guiding a sinner to acknowledge his sin(s) and then to repent of them.

    More importantly however, the term gradualism (aka incrimentalism) is the method which has been used to great advantage by the enemies of the Church to keep the sheep in the pen, to avoid a stampede as it were. One doesn’t openly tell the sheep what is going to be done because it will frighten them — one tells them in bits and (sound) bites –it’s told and shown to them gradually. Two steps forward, one step back. In this way the sheep can’t see the forest for the trees. They can’t see the overall picture and plan. If a few of them see it, they’re told they’re imagining things, they’re not permitting the Holy Spirit to work it all out for them.
    That is what this is all about and what it has been all about since the Renaissance. Two steps forward, one step back.

    It’s simply time for the hierarchy to make it ‘manifest’. It’s the big reveal, because the hierarchy is so well entrenched they don’t fear any reaction from the sheep.

  39. “What rang out clearly in the Synod was the necessity for courageous pastoral choices,” the report claims. These choices were presented in terms of “the law of gradualness”, the only reference to the rich teaching of St Pope John Paul II, otherwise ignored by the Synod. But it is used in a way that contradicts what he meant.
    According to American theologian, Father Dominic Legge, OP, some voices at the last Synod on the Family (1980) had claimed that, in difficult cases, one could commit to “gradually” relinquishing a gravely sinful practice (like contraception) and return immediately to the sacraments, even while intending to continue committing individual sinful acts in some (diminishing) measure. John Paul II clearly rejected this argument. Married couples, he wrote, “cannot . . . look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” (Familiaris Consortio no. 34.) But the latter is what Cardinal Erdö’s report advocates. – Source: – An Extraordinary Synod—In More Ways Than One | The Catholic Worls Report

  40. Father, thank you for this post. Gradualism is just another code word for not doing the job of calling people to conversion and urging them to accountability before God. I am eternally sick of the Modernists in the Church subverting the Faith through language and code words. We are all on a journey towards perfect union with God when we seek to live a Christ centered life. I don’t see any emphasis on this from the Synod.

    My remarks here are not an attack on your use of the word to explain how pastors are to help individuals. I would prefer to look at my life as walking toward the narrow gate, all the while letting Christ enlighten me in the way.

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