In the lead up to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family (which is now underway), some Cardinals and Bishops have been advocating for a change in the “pastoral” approach of the Church toward “irregular” unions. Examples of such unions include not only those civilly divorced and remarried without requesting a decree of nullity, but also same-sex unions. The typical line is that, while the Church cannot change her doctrine with regard to marriage, she should find a way to embrace the positive aspects of these “irregular” situations. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and President of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, provides us with a good example of this line of thinking in an interview with the Jesuit Italian journal La Civilta Cattolica:
We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection. But if we are asked, if it is demanded of the Church to say that this is a marriage, well we have to say: non possumus [we cannot]. It is not a discrimination of persons: to distinguish does not mean to discriminate. This absolutely does not prevent having great respect, friendship, or collaboration with couples living in this kind of union, and above all we mustn't look down on them. No one is obliged to accept this doctrine, but one can't pretend that the Church does not teach it.
Note carefully how Schönborn seeks to obligate us to “respect” that which is directly contrary to Church teaching. He then drives a wedge between Church teaching and what one is “obliged to accept.” It follows that the moral teaching of the Church, for Schönborn, is not objectively true; for only on that conditions would we not be obliged to accept it, and only then can we be obliged on the contrary to “respect” direct opposition to it. He goes on to give a concrete example of what he means:
[F]or example, I know a homosexual person who has lived a series of experiences for years, not with a particular person or cohabiting, but frequent experiences with different people. Now he has found a stable relationship. It is an improvement, if nothing else then on a human level, this not jumping from one relationship to another, but being in a stable relationship that is not based only on sexuality. One shares one's life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the Church can consider regular. The judgment on homosexual acts as such is necessary, but the Church mustn't look first in the bedroom, but in the dining room instead! We must accompany.
Here, Schönborn essentially repeats the cries of all those who reject the moral teaching of the Church: “Stay out of my bedroom!” But if the Church’s moral teachings about sexuality are true, can we truly say someone living in a perpetual (“stable,” as Schönborn prefers) state of willful disobedience to God has “made an important step for his own good”? Another prelate, Belgian Bishop Joann Bonny, recently hand-picked by Pope Francis to be a participant in the upcoming Synod, gives another example of this view :
There should be recognition of a diversity of forms. … We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church. … The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other.
Cardinal Danneels, another hand-picked by Pope Francis for the Synod, has stated in an interview that he believes legalization of homosexual unions is a “positive development”, and that the Church in the modern world has a more “nuanced” position on these issues, no longer being “fixated on moral principles.” 
There are other examples of prelates arguing along the same lines. What I want to point out is that all of these positions seem to assume that the fundamental tenet of Christian morality is for human beings to act with “good will” toward one another. Further, “good will” in this context seems to mean the same thing as good intentions, leaving aside the question of whether the intentions in question are properly formed by moral virtue and commanded by true prudence.
I think we can boil this all down to two assumptions:
“The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable: who can know it? I am the Lord who searches the heart, and proves the reins: who gives to everyone according to his way, and according to the fruit of his devices.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
In this sense, to encourage as positive the actions and states of life which facilitate those actions of people obeying ill-formed consciences is especially dangerous and sinful, particularly for prelates of the Church who are charged with pastoring souls to Heaven, not unto earthly contentment. This is the very opposite of pastoral concern, and might even be more akin to the exaggerated feeling of importance of the pastors, seeing their own “journeying” with the sinner to be God’s gift to the world, the salve to heal all wounds. But Christ is God’s gift, and his shepherding the model; He leaves the 99, not simply to “journey” with one lost sheep, but to bear him upon his shoulders, even kicking and screaming out of fear and ignorance, back to the safety of the flock. The pastor is to imitate Christ, first and foremost as the priest who offers His Body and Blood on behalf of us sinners, and secondarily as the shepherd who leads the wayward sheep back into the fold. The salve with which wounds are bound is the salve of the love of Christ, which is never content to leave the sinner in his sin, but calls out mercifully for the repentance of that sinner. It is the Lord who scrutinizes, and His ways are not man’s. The Church is duty bound to manifest in Her pastoral ministry on earth the commands of Almighty God whether or not they make sense to our age. History is filled with the tattered ruins of ages who “inclined not their ear” to the commands of the Lord, even ages of the chosen people of God. For He chastises those whom He loves.
Before moving to address the second claim, I think it is necessary to address a common objection. Many will say that it is simply unrealistic to demand the sinner to change his ways over night, and that we are therefore duty bound to accompany him to gradual steps away from his sin. This is why we should encourage the positive aspects of the lifestyle of the sinner, as a way of steering him toward the ideal of the Church.
I would respond with a distinction. It is true that the disposition of the sinner may not be changed overnight, and the vices which he has developed may not be eliminated for years. It is the pastoral duty of the whole Church to accompany the sinner on this journey, encouraging him at every step to gradually remove from himself his disordered attachments, and rejoicing in small victories along the way. But it is absolutely necessary, if such a process of gradual improvement is to ever begin, to require that the sinner cease acting in accord with his sinful disposition. “Go, and sin no more,” as Christ commands. There can be no tolerance for sinful action by the Church, even if there must be toleration for the distortions left like a shadow of vice which linger on the penitent’s soul. These things will be blotted out by the light of Christ in time, but only if the soul has first concretely turned from sinful action.
The second claim is unfortunately one of which traces can be detected in official documents promulgated by the Church in the last 50 years. I’m thinking particularly of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). Ultimately, this error consists in a slightly skewed reference to a passage of the Gospel. “Love of God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment.” (GS, 24) This is a reference to Christ’s words in Matthew 22:36-40:
“ Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?  Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.  And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.
Here, Christ gives us a crucial distinction which is conspicuously absent from Gaudium et Spes. The love of neighbor is subordinate to the love of God. The latter is the “first and greatest commandment,” while the former is “second” and “like to this;” that is, the love of neighbor must be a participation in the love of God. Though, of course, these two commandments do form a unity so that the one cannot be without the other, we must carefully guard against the error which would falsify the words of Christ. The error is placing the love neighbor on equal footing with love of God, or that which is even more dangerous: making the love of God nothing more than the love of neighbor.
This error has far-reaching consequences. For one thing, it necessarily downplays the importance of worship and the virtues of religion and piety. It at least weakens our focus on seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, of rendering unto God what is owed, namely, our total submission in union with the Body and Blood of our High Priest and Victim upon the altar in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Instead, the focal point and orientation (quite literally, as it turns out) of our worship will become the people, and the sacrifice will give way to the meal. For it is the union of people with one another that is the essence of the Church according to this error, and union with God is thought of as nothing other than this “ecumenical” unity. It forgets the eschatological purpose of the unity among the people, which is so that we might be found together among the wise virgins of Christ’s parable, prepared with lamps lit for the coming of the Divine Bridegroom. We are to be united as in one Body so that we might enjoy through this that unity which is our ultimate end, union with God. The former is the Divinely instituted means for the latter.
Downplaying our primary moral obligation to God, our moral obligation to one another will take center stage and so-called “social justice” will occupy the entire ethical life of the Church. And while social justice is certainly demanded by the Gospel, its exaggeration will begin to cast a shadow upon any moral law which does not seem directed in and of itself to the mutual joy and togetherness of the people. Thus, if a moral law arises which seems to divide--the condemnation of divorce or homosexual unions, for example-- it must necessarily come into question. Since, as it is argued, Christ came to bring people together in a joyful and peaceful communion, how can the Church continue to promulgate old fashioned laws which are hurtful to people and cause them to leave the flock? To this, it must be asked what our Lord could possibly have meant when he said “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:26) or again:
 Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.  For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man's enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me.  He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)
If it is once made clear that the love of neighbor must be ordered and secondary to the love of God, then it becomes clear that nothing in our neighbor which is opposed to God can be embraced. Rather, because what we love in our neighbors ought to be whatever there is in them of God (since that is who they truly are in the very core of their being), we entreat them to give up wickedness, and offer them whatever sacrificial love can offer to help them respond to the grace of God. This is to imitate the Good Shepherd. The stain of sin in the souls of our neighbors, like the same stain in ourselves, can never be passively accepted, even if that stain is near and dear to us, even if it gives us joy and comfort, even if it makes us feel at home. For we are in exile, in this valley of tears, and the mirages we encounter are many. And who makes his house in a mirage will soon find himself withered and scorched by the sun.
These cardinals and bishops are faced with a choice. On the one hand, they can continue to trust that the teachings of the Church are objectively true, and therefore maintain that any who live in direct opposition to any one of these teachings is in grave danger of eternal separation from Love Himself. They must frankly admit that any happiness attained by means of such a lifestyle must be a dangerous illusion to be dispelled as quickly as possible. If they choose this, then they must give up as utter folly any “pastoral practice” which would embrace and encourage so-called “positive aspects” of sinful living. On the other hand, they are faced with the option of frankly admitting that the Church teaches things which are directly contrary to the ultimate happiness of man, and that she is therefore lacking in authority on all moral matters. If that is the case, then the Church is not divine, and neither is her Head. It would be a singular travesty in human history for such an institution to have existed so long, and justice would demand it be destroyed at once. To try and toe the line between these two options is self-serving, despicable, totally lacking in integrity, and it is unbecoming of any man, much less those shepherds entrusted with so precious a task.
Let us pray for the faith of our clergy, especially those gathered at the Synod, that it may not fail in the tumultuous winds of our hedonistic age. May they desire to please only the Bridegroom, and never seek the accolades and admiration of the world. May the successor of Saint Peter do his Divinely sanctioned duty in admonishing and strengthening his brethren in strict accordance with Tradition, with what has been handed down from the Holy Apostles and wisely guarded by his predecessors throughout the ages. And may the allure of worldly novelty be revealed as a snare of Satan, who desires nothing more than for this world, of which he is the usurping prince, to devour the Church. Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us, especially the shepherds of Holy Mother Church.
 Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)
 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, Q. 19, Art. 5 & 6. Saint Thomas defines conscience as the act of applying practical reason to concrete circumstances in order to come to a conclusion about what course of action is best. In these two articles, he asks whether it is sinful to act contrary to one's conscience even if it's application of reason errs. He argues that it is, indeed, always sinful to act contrary to what one judges to be best even in the case of erroneous judgement, since it is in intention an act contrary to reason. On the other hand, he makes it clear that does not mean that every act in accord with one's own judgment is necessarily good. If the error is due either to voluntary ignorance or negligence (for example, if his ignorance is due to his own sloth), then the evil of his action is culpable even if it is in accord with his personal judgement.
The authors of this blog are the tutors of Saint John of the Cross Academy: