success stories

Posted April 30, 2004

Book: A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology
Author: James T. Bretzke
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp.248

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

A Morally Complex World covers the methodology of moral theology; basic concepts such as conscience and moral agency; natural law and moral norms; how the Bible can be used in Christian ethics; how to dialogue on contested ethical issues; how to consider sin and moral failure; and how to meditate moral principles and moral teaching in a pastorally sensitive manner in concrete life situations.

An Excerpt from the Book:

You are a member of the chaplaincy team at a hospital. John and Mary Smith, a couple in their late 30s come to you in great distress as the woman has just given birth to a Downs syndrome baby who also has a closed esophagus. Though the closed esophagus can be corrected fairly easily the doctor suggests that perhaps, in view of the Downs Syndrome, it would be better to try to keep the baby as comfortable as possible but not to perform the operation. The baby would then die within a matter of days. The couple has one other healthy two-year old. The couple asks you to help them in coming to a decision in this case.

1. What is my pastoral role in this case and what am I being asked to do?

Keeping in mind the role that one plays when asked to engage another in a pastoral encounter can give the first set of important insights as to how we might proceed. If you are being asked for your help as a friend, then respond as a friend, but if someone has come to you because they recognize you for exercising some specific role in the community then it is important to bear that role in mind in fashioning your response. In dealing for many years with those preparing for regular ministry in the Church, whether it be as an ordained, lay, or religious person, I have noticed that there is a certain innate tendency on the part of these people to fall into the role of being a sort of quasi-spokesperson or answer guide for Church teachings. While it is true that on occasion people might wish to consult us in a professional capacity as a teacher or interpreter of various Church moral positions, the vast majority of the time weare really called not to answer technical questions as much as to be a companion and support to another person as they seek to discern what it might be that God is asking of them in this particular crisis moment in their life.

If we are serving in some official capacity, whether it be as a chaplain, parish worker, high school counselor, or lay volunteer, we do have to keep in mind that it is not just our personal opinion on an issue that counts, but what the Church teaches as well. As we have seen by now, “what the Church teaches” in many cases has a varied history of positions and applications, as well as a broad range of possible interpretations and debates in the present. This past and present are part of “what the Church teaches” on a specific issue and, depending on the particular set of circumstances, it may be important to indicate the unsettledness of a certain issue if this is the case.

Table of Contents:

1. Mapping a Moral Methodolgy

2. The Natural Law and Moral Norms: Moving Along the Rational Claim Axis

3. Scripture and Ethics: Moving Along the Sacred Claim Axis

4. The Sanctuary of Conscience: where the Axes Intersect

5. Modes of Moral Discourse: Navigating Towards a Common Ground

6. Navigating in the Morally Complex World: Casuistry with a Human Face

7. Sin and Failure in a Morally Complex World

Works Cited