What the Church desperately needs with regard to the Second Vatican Council is to embrace the Hermeneutic of Forgetfulness. But how to get there? Attitude will be crucial. Let us take one of the bromides of the conciliar era, “pastoral”, and turn it to our use. Vatican II was a pastoral council. Everyone says so. But what does “pastoral” mean? Or, rather, what meaning do we wish to give it?Only God knows how much clerical cowardice has been justified on the grounds of being pastoral. I've always understood it to mean "permissive." For example, suppose a young couple is shacking up when they approach the priest for marriage preparation. Nine times out of ten our young parochial vicar will think, "Well, that's just what people do today. If I tell these people that they are giving scandal and that fornication is a mortal sin for which they can and will burn in hell for all eternity if they do not repent, then no good will come of it. They will get angry. They might get discouraged. They'll ignore me in any case. They might leave the parish or even the Church. I'll just keep silent. They're trying to make it right anyway, right?"
The problem with this thinking is that 1) it perpetuates the chasm between doctrine and praxis; and 2) the priest is putting his own soul in danger of damnation by failing to teach the truth. The priest is trying to be a nice guy. The couple may or may not be aware that cohabitation is sinful. Catholic catechesis is generally so poor that I no longer take it for granted that baptized and confirmed Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If they are ignorant, then the priest is counting on ignorance to act as a sort of eighth sacrament to get them off the hook and putting himself in danger of hellfire. Isn't he so much nicer than that harsh Jesus fellow who was always threatening people with hell and making such unreasonable demands of people? His teachings might have worked for first century peasants, but Jesus just doesn't understand that we live in a fast paced technological world and that we have to meet modern man where he's at.
If the cohabiting couple does know that they're doing wrong and the priest remains silent about their living arrangement, then they go away thinking, "I see how it works now. The Church has to maintain her bluff. She has to uphold certain things in public in order to keep the whole house of cards from collapsing, but her leadership doesn't actually believe these things." Religion becomes just another consumer good among many to be adopted, rejected, or tailored as we see fit. For decades, priests and bishops have been teaching the lay faithful that written doctrine is one thing but they don't seriously expect us to believe it or practice it if we don't like it. Don't pay attention to what we say, but what we do as accepted pastoral practices. If the lay faithful have been taught by their pastors to not take the written rules seriously, then whose fault is it when they act accordingly? If you're an anklebiter, pay attention to how many people go to confession vs how many receive communion. It's possible, in the sense that I can imagine it happening without involving a contradiction, that every Catholic is living a life of such outstanding sanctity that they don't need confession beyond their yearly duty. Quizzing the average suburban Catholic on the faith should cure you of that notion.
Being pastoral is essentially a matter of strategy. The bishops have been practicing a strategy of soft-pedaling the faith, and after forty years it's safe to say that it's been a cataclysmic failure. For reasons unknown to me, they still cling to their failed strategy even as they're closing down dozens of parishes and schools. They have a bizarre, almost manic, fixation on declaring Vatican II a success despite the evidence of our lying eyes. They signed on to the project of updating the Church right into the ground, and by God they're going to see it through to the bitter end. If souls weren't being lost, I could admire that kind of dogged determination. Souls are at stake though so farce becomes tragedy.
That's why I fear the upcoming synod on the family in October. I expect that the doctrine on marriage will be formally upheld but the pastoral practice will be watered down even further from its current state. The American annulment mills will grind ever on. We have to be pastoral after all.