The term “pastoral” is presently used throughout the Church but nowhere is it defined and there is a great deal of confusion as to its use and interpretation. I note that “pastoral” – a term which has an etymology derived from shepherding – has been appropriated by the Church into an administrative/juridical structure but yet retains the more general descriptive content of qualities such as mercy, forgiveness and suchlike, both in the Church and the world, something which Pope Francis has sought to highlight.
In this article I wish to track the meaning of the word “pastoral” as it occurred and occurs in papal thought in John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. I will consider all of the various ways in which the popes have employed the term, with particular reference to the allocutions to the Roman Rota.
In his opening speech at the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII said he wanted the Council to reform the Church so that it would be able to respond to the spiritual needs of the world and for the good of souls. In summoning a new Council the pope intended that its objective was to be an aggiornamento – that is, a “bringing up to date” of the Catholic Church, which would involve “major improvements in the Church’s practices.”