Christmas Campaign: Financial Insights

The synod's key twist: The sudden return of gradualism

By John L. Allen Jr

ROME — All of a sudden at the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, “gradualism” as a concept in both Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice, which not so long ago seemed on the verge of being stricken from the official lexicon, is back with a vengeance.

There have been multiple references so far to the “law of graduality,” more commonly referred to by theologians over the years as “gradualism.” Its apparent popularity may offer a clue to how things are evolving in the keenly watched debate over divorced and remarried Catholics, but understanding why requires a bit of background.

At one level, gradualism is no more than the common sense observation that virtues such as honesty and courage aren’t all-or-nothing propositions, and that people move towards them through stages and at different speeds.

It implies that just because someone’s current situation falls short of perfection doesn’t mean it has no moral value, and it’s often better to encourage the positive elements in someone’s life rather than to chastise their flaws.

It was probably that sense of gradualism Pope Benedict XVI had in mind in 2010 when he said in an interview with a German journalist that if a male prostitute uses a condom to try to avoid infecting people with HIV/AIDS, it can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

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Not really is not definitive, 'oh yes doing this and that is bad, but whatever'

Water down relativism, absolutely... still mortal sin, still another word for omission and apathy.
Dr Bobus
It's not really relativism because it affirms the moral principle.

In moral theology sins of weakness can possibly be venial even though they concern grave matter (antecedent passion mitigates culpability). Gradualism, however, implicitly considers all sins to be sins of weakness, and all sins of weakness to be venial.
Relativism in disguise.
Dr Bobus
Simply put, Gradualism is assenting to the moral principle but not thinking someone is morally obligated sub poena peccati (under the penalty of sin) to follow it--despite the presence of grave matter.

Thus, as long as someone thinks adultery (or murder or theft) is wrong, committing adultery (or murder or theft) is a venial rather than mortal sin.
Gradualism=Relativism in disguise.