Theology and the art of being pastoral

Raphael Gallagher CSsR

Being pastoral is challenging. Instead of understanding this as an application (pastoral solutions), this article argues, from Pope Francis, that pastoral is the defining quality at every stage. Raphael Gallagher is an Irish Redemptorist and was an Invited Professor at the Alphonsian Academy, Rome, until 2015.

Pastoral theology is often regarded as the end of a process. The rigorous scientific thinking belongs to moral theology, and the outcome is applied to the pastoral situation. The objective norm remains untouched, though the pastor will make every effort to be sympathetic in its application. Is it possible to envisage theology as pastoral at the beginning of a process rather than a style for a soft-landing conclusion? Two Exhortations of Pope Francis suggest this as a possibility.1

The church as pastoral
The Church defines herself as the light of Christ to the nations.2 It is reasonable to presume that she should be recognised as such, and if someone rejects the Church, the rejection is of a religious institution. The experience of many, however, is of the Church as primarily a moral authority rather than a religious community of struggling believers. The Church is considered as a powerful institution, essentially juridical, with claims that are quasi-universal based on being a society that is independent of earthly powers. Readers of the Pastoral Review will hardly share this assessment. However, why has much public reaction to the sexual scandals within the Church been a response to the Church seen as a moral power claiming juridical independence with a universal range?

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