Adultery can be forgiven, but as with every other sin, contrition is required. If the civilly remarried have no intention of changing their situation, the church cannot regularize them. As a penitent, when seeking absolution for your sins, you must verbally resolve “to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.” If you have to cross your fingers for the final phrase, you can’t expect it to work.
Adding the word “pastoral” to a document will not get us around this problem. The bishops understand this, as does Douthat. It’s one of those dogma that’s hard to live, but fairly easy to comprehend.
Here’s the more puzzling question: why are there so many divorced and civilly remarried Catholics? In light of the dire consequences, you might expect Catholics to make stringent efforts to avoid this unhappy situation. They should. Unfortunately, Catholic intellectuals and the clergy have much to answer for here, because they’ve been disgracefully complicit in muddying dogma, leaving far too many Catholics in irregular situations.