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A bad place for a misleading headline

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 20, 2015

Read the headline and tell me what it means:

New pastoral approach does not change doctrine, Australian archbishop says

Doesn’t that headline—atop a story from the Synod—clearly imply that the bishops have already adopted a new pastoral approach? Is there any other way to interpret the words? If this were merely a question of a proposed change, the headline should read that the approach “would not” change doctrine; an approach that “does not” change doctrine sounds very much like a fait accompli. And as we know, many people never read past the headline.

The story below that headline is reasonably accurate (although it does refer to the desire for a “genuine pastoral approach,” which suggests that the approach taken by the Church for the past 2,000 years has not been genuinely pastoral). But the headline will feed into the widespread misapprehension that the Synod has already decided on a change in pastoral practice.

It would be unfortunate, but understandable, if this misleading headline appeared in a secular newspaper. But it comes directly from the site of Catholic News Service, the agency run by the US bishops’ conference.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 23, 2015 12:41 PM ET USA

    My experience with "pastoral" during the 1980s and 1990s mostly took place through homilies. Those who were the most "pastoral" were also usually the most dictatorial in their approach to discernment, administration, and instruction. In their homilies they studiously avoided speaking about sexual sins, preferring instead to focus on sins of neglect such as not tithing enough. Their political leanings were well known through their homilies and their participation in "just" social causes.

  • Posted by: Ken - Oct. 22, 2015 12:02 AM ET USA

    Shouldn't surprise anyone. Liberals are constantly viewing the world they want to see and convincing themselves it's real rather than seeing the real world.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 21, 2015 12:51 AM ET USA

    The more they talk about "mercy" and being "pastoral" at the Synod, the more it seems political rather than genuinely Christ-like. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." [Hebrews 4:15]

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Oct. 20, 2015 5:57 PM ET USA

    Would someone please explain what in the world "Pastoral" means? I thought a Pastor was a shepherd, keeping sheep out of danger, healthy and well-fed. I didn't think it was a shepherd's job to run sheep off a cliff.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Oct. 20, 2015 4:06 PM ET USA

    Catholic News Service has done an often APPALLING job reporting on the Synod, in my opinion. One of the most egregious was when they made a big deal out of the misguided, appropos-of-nothing promotion of "women deacons" by ONE liberal Canadian bishop.