The touted Year of Mercy has just begun and already I am tired of it. Not of mercy itself—never that. I am just bone-weary of the hawking of this self-conscious, arbitrary, lumbering thing. Suddenly forgiveness is on discount, a high quality item available at bargain prices for a limited time only. For twelve months, the Church becomes an outlet mall designed to broaden its customer base. Narrowing the gap between the Church and its competitors for consumer satisfaction is the obvious objective.
When the 365 sales days end, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity closes. Then what? Does the ticket price of mercy go back up to where it was in the pitiless pre-Bergoglio Church? Not likely. More probably, the Church will continue its slide into a big box chain of parishes for Catholic consumers who know how to shop.
The Year of Mercy is a public relations ploy. It is being marketed as a wedge between the stony legalism of Church Past—obsessed with doctrine and run by small-hearted Scrooges in zucchettos—and the Church Yet to Come. In this revamped Church, sins will be downgraded to mere misdemeanors. Two Our Fathers, five Hail Marys, and you are home free. Certainly no jail time for having found yourself in a “difficult situation” and punted.
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Despite the year’s great sweep of mercy, left squatting in the room is a very big elephant who earns no public clemency. State-of-the-art mercies still do not apply to the use of a condom—a non-abortive contraceptive—within a marriage committed to family life.
Please understand. It is not my intention here to raise debate over contraception. Not at all. But it is important to note the inconsistencies enshrined in this capricious Year of Mercy. Trumpeted incongruity—erratically chosen objects of random lenience—makes a mockery of the Church’s insistence on the compatibility of faith and reason.
People who have walked away from a spouse and offspring to set up house elsewhere will receive mercy. No distinction is drawn between the abandoned and the abandoner. Traditionally forbidden relationships can queue up for certified compassion. Modern sensitivity requires an end to unpleasant talk of adultery. Let us now use the descriptive “recommitted.” The word “adulterous” goes into mothballs together with “disordered.”
Women who have sought abortions, for whatever reason, are assured of ready pardon—as if sacramental absolution had been unavailable before this magical year. Francis’ soapbox mercy quells unease, dims in advance that sense of shame that is the spur to contrition. This broadcast assurance is likely to weaken any lingering stigma against killing the unborn. But the point of the year’s trumpeted clemency appears to be the papal self-image, not any real-world effect on the culture of death.
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At the same time, conscientious couples loyal to their vows, responsible to their children, and realistic about their resources—material and emotional—who use a condom to control fertility are still said to be engaged in an “intrinsic evil.” No softening of language for them. No talk here of “let your conscience be your guide.” Rather, only the most disruptive—even lethal—aspects of conjugal life and sexual behavior are targeted for mercy. The one that carries the least negative consequences remains in the dock.
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Every Catholic has a profound stake in the teaching authority of the Church. It is painful to see that authority wounding itself. And displaying its lesions in lights on the dome of St. Peter’s.