The Moral Theologian as Pastor
Kevin T. Kelly takes to heart the pastoral approach to moral theology. A Roman Catholic priest of the Liverpool Archdiocese in England, Kelly has distinguished his long career by being both a moral theologian and a pastor at the same time. Through his moral theology, he strives to proclaim the good news of salvation not only to but also out of the experience of those who ordinarily are dismissed as sinners and hence excluded from the moral conversation. In more than forty years of ministry in seminaries and in parishes, he has devoted himself to such issues as those concerning the divorced and remarried, gays and lesbians, the unmarried but cohabiting, and those infected with HIV/AIDS. Throughout his writing, the question he unwaveringly puts before himself and his readers is: What is the Spirit saying in the lives of these people? Is it condemnation? Is it edification? Is it a cry for healing? Is it a call for justice? And what does this mean for the way we understand and practice moral theology? This study articulates Kelly's distinctively pastoral method of moral theology. Through an investigation primarily of his writings, it shows that his method, in responding to the demands of scripture and tradition, is infused with compassion and characterized by the interplay of experience and dialogue, with a keen interest in the perspective of those in the margins of the moral theological discourse. In the process, this research arrives at insights into the value of the pastoral character of moral theology and outlines some specific contours it takes as it engages the various moral issues that people face in their lives. There are four chapters to this dissertation. Chapter 1 presents what the pastoral character of moral theology means and what Kelly himself envisions as the role that moral theology plays in the church. To be pastoral is to be mindful of the needs of the community, particularly of people in distress. For moral theologians, this is a call to attend to the reciprocal relationship between moral principles and human experience. It therefore summons them to attend to the movement of the Spirit in the "messy and dirty" reality of everyday life and to teach in the church in a way that honors the never-ending process of learning from the Spirit through one another, a process which admits of and profits from disagreement even with the hierarchy. The next two chapters present the pastoral approach of Kelly at work. Chapter 2 offers a detailed treatment of his position on divorce and remarriage, an issue to which he devoted many of his earlier writings. Drawing from the personalist understanding of marriage enshrined in Vatican II and supported by contemporary scholarship on relevant scripture texts, Kelly argues that the church's ministry to the divorced and remarried cannot go forward and be truly pastoral unless the church modifies its stance with regard to the indissolubility of marriage and communion for the divorced and remarried. Chapter 3 follows Kelly as he grapples with human and ecclesial experiences through which the Spirit speaks. Responding to the diversity of teachings from the various Christian churches on such issues as contraception and in vitro fertilization, he explores the dignity of the human person as a common ground which these teachings uphold and on which moral theology can and should be constructed. Impelled to address in his capacity as a moral theologian the tragic phenomenon of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly the structures of oppression that intensify the spread of this disease, he outlines basic features that Christian sexual ethics must have if it is to avoid collusion with such destructive and sinful structures. From Kelly's frameworks and foundations for the renewal of moral theology and sexual ethics, three themes stand out: the changing character of morality, the broader vision of wrongness beyond discrete self-contained acts by self-contained agents, and the re-thinking and re-configuring of sexual relationships. The study culminates with Chapter 4 in which I identify Kelly's pastoral method of moral theology as it emerges from all of the above. I portray it as being inspired by scripture and tradition, driven by compassion, and performed in the interlocking spheres of experience and dialogue. Furthermore, I elaborate on the three dimensions--communal, critical, and personal--of both experience and dialogue. Apart from providing a structure for the analysis of Kelly's legacy to moral theology, this articulation of his method offers a template for the pastoral practice of moral theology in the church.