This strikes me as a far more serious problem in the Church today than any excess of judgmentalism, or a deficiency of compassion. Teaching at a Catholic University today, I see similar deficiencies of formation in my students, with the primary change being a greatly increased acceptance of homosexuality. It’s especially saddening to reflect that these young Catholics are for the most part lifelong Mass-goers, generally from intact families, whose parents have made significant sacrifices to give them a serious Catholic education. The are not yet fallen away or living in irregular situations. (Though tragically, some of my former classmates now are.) These young people should be our shock troops, burning with zeal to win back the world for Christ. Instead, far too many seem lazy and lukewarm, only dimly aware of Catholic teachings, and ready to agree with the mainstream culture that the Gospel in its fullness is more a source of embarrassment than of pride.
If we can’t win over our own children, I don’t see how the Church can possibly regain the missionary zeal that the Holy Father very laudably wishes to instill. But an effective “wellness plan” requires clear instruction, together with the evident expectation that the young will listen and obey. When reaching out to non-Catholics and the fallen away, a softer touch may sometimes be necessary, and there are also throughout the world, Catholic subcultures that have collapsed to the point where we should effectively regard them as missionary zones. But we should never to treat our own children as though their full embrace of the faith is an exotic fringe possibility. We don’t want them to be self-righteous, but we do need them to take pride in representing a faith that is deliberately counter-cultural. That is the only way to protect their souls from a hostile world, and to prepare them to be soldiers for Christ.
In the end of course, effective catechesis is not in tension with zealous-but-compassionate efforts to minister to the desperate. Quite the contrary: well-formed souls are the only ones who can effectively carry on the vital work of reaching out to the afflicted. But if pastors and laity are to carry on this work with the missionary zeal that the Holy Father obviously wants to see, they need to know that Rome stands firmly behind them. And it may be that the sort of “institutional compassion” the Synod has been considering over these last weeks simply is not compatible with the firm doctrinal support that the faithful continue to need. The world is trying, relentlessly, to tear Catholic teachings (especially on sex and marriage) to the ground. The faithful need to see that their leaders are prepared to defend it against the onslaught. So perhaps it would be better to let individual pastors be pastors, while the Holy See sees to the vital work of keeping the ship—obviously and visibly—on course.
Rachel Luteaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas and writes for Crisis Magazine and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.