“Words are worlds,” said Coleridge.
When speaking of divorced and remarried Catholics as those living in the sin of adultery he asked, “Does it [the term adultery] deal with the reality of their life?”
Similarly, the old adage “love the sinner but hate the sin,” the framework commonly used by Catholics “no longer works,” according to Coleridge.
“It is false distinction” that does harm and alienates. He suggested that we can no longer say that a person who is homosexual is loved by God, but the way they live out their life, their sexuality, is sinful.
He also noted that the Church needs to be more forthright in dealing with its own teachings on sin. “The distinction between public and private no longer works,” said Coleridge. “Pope Francis is modeling this. We need public enactments of mercy – not just in private.”
Another reporter noted that doctrine is hard wired in language and asked the panelists to give examples of problematic language that could change without changing doctrine.
“Indissolubility’ is one word that needs to change according to Coleridge. He wondered what new language could encompass the Church’s belief in life-long commitments and “proclaim the truth without lapsing into church speak or canonicalspeak.”
The other descriptor that needs to be banished from the Catholic lexicon is “intrinsically disordered.” Coleridge understands that if you say the acts of a homosexual person are “intrinsically disordered” then you are saying the person is intrinsically disordered.
Listen and learn or how to get out of a man-made trap
As one listens to the bishops speak about how to reform the Church the usual invocation that “doctrine will not change” or the artificial conundrum of finding “new language to reconcile the concepts of mercy and teaching” begins to feel like a marketing ploy rather than an honest “come to Jesus” moment of a people coming to terms with the limits and failings of their doctrines and teachings.
The oft-repeated, convenient fictions; the convoluted attempts to get out of our man-made traps where life is ordered according to abstract doctrines and traditions that no longer give life — is nothing less than a tragic, sometimes comic, affair. Those who are honest just shake their heads at the tragedy of it all.
Every Catholic knows the cleansing power of truth is hard to come by in this Church. Still Catholics yearn for that kind of light and transparency. We grow weary of the games that play out. So do the bishops who want reform if you read in between the lines. We get glimpses of courageous truth-telling once in a while, but much of our time is spent living in a Church that casts long shadows on both priests and people in the name of age-old fantasies about love, sin, and redemption.
That’s why Coleridge’s suggestion that private mercy no longer suffices is so important. We can no longer risk letting mercy rest with just a few enlightened pastors. We need transparency about the limits and failings of our Church teaching and doctrine. We need to proclaim the Good News.
The panelists agreed that corrective for bishops is listening and learning from Catholics themselves. Following Francis’ lead, they recognize that the People of God are a source of wisdom and God’s voice in the world too.