“5 Now the end of the commandment is charity, from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith. 6 From which things some going astray, are turned aside unto vain babbling: 7 Desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither the things they say, nor whereof they affirm. 8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully: 9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for the just man, but for the unjust and disobedient, for the ungodly, and for sinners, for the wicked and defiled, for murderers of fathers, and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 For fornicators, for them who defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and whatever other thing is contrary to sound doctrine”.
– I Timothy 1
Have a heart. We all make mistakes. Each person’s story is unique, and must be judged on a case-by-case basis in light of the full range of moral variety in our complex modern society. The world needs the caress of Holy Mother Church, not the decrees of a crabby Moralizing Master. The world is no longer so black-and-white, and mature theology must adapt to keep up with the fresh guidance of the Spirit in light of new pastoral needs. There is simply no place for harsh dogmatizing when tender souls–the wounded, lost sheep marginalized on the periphery of life–really just need better pastoral accompaniment.
Take kidnappers, for instance. The Church has always condemned kidnapping as intrinsically immoral, and as a complete barrier to partaking of the Eucharist. Being a mother of mercy, however, the Church also fully welcomes kidnappers–yes, even kidnappers!–back to the fold once they repent of their crimes, receive sacramental absolution, and make penance as the first step to amending their lives.
Perhaps, however, it is time for the Church to be more creative with the pastoral tenderness to which Christ calls true Christian disciples. Instead of pitting the complex, concrete realities of what drove a person to kidnapping against the boundless blessings of the Eucharistic–as if the Eucharist were a prize for the strong, instead of a medicine for the weak!–the Church must draw upon the plurality of theological currents in Catholic Tradition and grant more autonomy to the conscience of kidnappers. After all, the Church can have her own opinion, but she cannot interfere in the spiritual life of others.
I propose, therefore, that kidnappers be allowed to discuss their plight with a competent confessor, undergo a period of suitable penance, and then be officially and openly welcomed back to the Eucharistic feast, based on the mystery of their own inviolable consciences. From the outside, it’s callously easy to condemn a kidnapper for maintaining his immoral lifestyle, but I think we can all relate to how hard it is to extricate ourselves from sticky moral situations once we find ourselves therein. From the outside, it is easy to say that a kidnapper should release his captive and fully amend his life if he really wishes to honor the Church’s teaching and be able to partake of the Eucharist. But again–how can we judge the concrete realities of another person’s life? A watch, as they say, is easier to break apart than to put back together again.
Therefore, we must meet people where they are, fully accept their brokenness, and try to build on the life they actually have, not drone on about Pharisaical castles in the sky. Who are we to say that a kidnapper cannot live an exemplary Christian life by relying on his own conscience, with suitable pastoral accompaniment, as he approaches the Eucharist? As long as the kidnapper in question ceases to torture his captive, ceases to demand a ransom, and promises to live a virtuous Christian life, the tragic complexity of his life as a kidnapper need not present an obstacle to full communion in the sacramental life of the Church. Indeed, the Eucharist is probably the grace most needed for such a pitiful soul in such a complicated moral situation! Good for them! I would have no sense of judgment on them, and neither should you.
Keep in mind that none of this long overdue pastoral creativity entails that the Church officially alter or abrogate her own dogmas. Perish the thought! This is merely a question of discipline, not doctrine! Hence, although the Church cannot and will not officially compromise on infallible doctrine regarding the evil of kidnapping, the scandalous fact is that Christian charity behooves the Church to assume that kidnappers are treating their hostages kindly and humanely, and to leave their private choices vis-à-vis the Eucharist up to them. Far from being a legalistic barrier imposed by the Church, refraining from communion must be treated as the responsibility of the kidnapper choosing to receive or abstain. While we must not deny the fact that living as a kidnapper is, according to official and permanently binding Catholic teaching, a grave moral imperfection–as well as a heavy cross for any Christian to bear!–the time has come for the Church to develop innovative ecclesiastical disciplines which can better equip those persons trying to live out the unique mystery of their vocation as kidnappers.