16. Oct, 2017

What is the Best Model of Pastoral Accompaniment?

A Dialogue with Conscience

Are priests to take on personalist role as a counselor for conscience (https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/pope-tells-new-bishops-respect-dialogue-consciences-laypeople), explaining why it's okay to sin? That is the consequence of Amoris Laetitia where the justification (and acceptance) of sin will prevail over a person admitting sin.

For example (this is the debated example), an adulterer is in that objective situation of sin willingly. And as a chosen behaviour, personal biases will prevent that person from truly listening to their conscience. Nobody is ignorant of the principles of the moral law – nobody is ignorant of the fact that adultery is wrong!  And yet, that is what adulterers freely choose to do.

The question is: Are they going to admit to themselves that they are sinners?


The study of confirmation bias suggests that we protect our image of our self. Personal accountability is complicated because we have biases about ourselves. We tend to think that we are in the right, whilst others are in the wrong. This is because we desperately want to think we are good, and therefore justify many things about ourselves to ourselves, to maintain cognitive consistency. 

Will a sinner listen to conscience? Not unless they are prepared to humble themselves and admit the truth to themselves.

Should Rigidity Play a Role in Discernment?

Any parent knows the answer to this question. Should a child have a set of rules to follow? Yes, children need boundaries so they know what is expected. Similarly, St Paul talks of the law in this way until we can live according to the Spirit.  Rules help guide us and they are necessarily rigid/black and white otherwise we wouldn’t know if we were living up to what is expected of us.

We submit to those laws says St Paul (to the Romans). By submitting we learn to “refuse evil, and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15) like any child of God. The analogy of drawn between child development and spiritual development holds as we are children before God.

Unfortunately, Holy Father is reportedly keen to abandon rules when it comes to discernment (and this is at the heart of the controversy of chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia) https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-to-new-bishops-discernment-means-avoiding-rigid-answers-to-moral-quest?utm_content=buffer8f5d1

Jesus’ Model of Discernment

Jesus presents a model of discernment. It involves knowing the rules (in this case God's prohibition of adultery) and confronting us with the truth.  For example, in an act of mercy Jesus challenged the Samaritan woman (John 4) for her sin of adultery. This is an extract of that dialogue:

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

In other instances, Jesus is more explicit about his expectations of us, “"Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). To truly follow our conscience, we must discern between good and evil in order to flee sin and embrace the life of grace Jesus is offering.

Natural Law

The natural law does not allow for sin. In that sense the natural law is a rigid law: Do good and avoid evil. It seems omitted in the controversial exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Can it be concluded that Amoris Laetitia does not teach adherence to this rigid law?


What is the best model of pastoral accompaniment? The one where those trying to follow Jesus are confronted with the truth – that what we have done, or are intending to do, is either good or evil.

The faithful should be encouraged to form their conscience and taught that conscience discerns between the good and evil, intrinsic to the action, that they are considering doing (or that they have done in the past). It should be made clear that a dialogue with one’s conscience involves discerning the natural law i.e., between our doing good and avoiding evil. Once they have discerned whether what they are about to do is either good or evil, they are obliged to strictly and rigidly adhere to the dictates of their conscience.