So you can search for yourself the whole litany of reasons why Christianity.SE opted to not be a feel-good free-for-all in favor of facts. But I've got a problem with the idea that we should be censoring answers offering personal advice.

The Founder of Christianity* and a lot of his adherents seem to think we should

Immediately delete answers that actually give personal advice.

But in my experience on this website, which I don't think is negligible, I've been able to offer lots of good advice without worrying that I'm leading someone into doing something dumb.

so when I read this

@Helen Site policy does not allow us to offer pastoral advice - an answer cannot rightly take your personal situation into account. As a site, we believe you should not be relying on strangers for such advice. Instead, you need to see a priest or other spiritual adviser for that. – ThaddeusB 2 days ago

I get a little bit miffed because it sounds like someone is trying to censor an answer or force it into a model that an answering may not like to answer in. Personally, I like to be personal. Affable Geek was the same way and I totally admired him for all he did for this site, and for other people. Who we actually are here to help, not just as Christian Intellectuals, but as a merciful people.


Saying "You" in an answer does not constitute pastoral advice. Thoughts?

*stack exchange at least

  • 4
    Extremely related/possible duplicate: But can't I just say one thing?. Affable Geek answered that question, though he doesn't have the highest-voted answer. Jan 19, 2016 at 16:22
  • @Nathaniel it is completely unrelated. This question is about scrupulous protestants misinterpreting Catholic common sense for pastoral advice.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Jan 20, 2016 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


The highest voted answer (+26 / -1) to the post that decided pastoral advice questions were off-topic starts:

The most important thing is that we resist the temptation of providing an answer. I know that Christians are supposed to love others, and questions like this will undoubtedly tug at the heart-strings, but answering questions like this will always be a disservice to the questioner.

So of course pastoral advice answers are off-topic. The fact that we can't/shouldn't answer them is why the questions are off-topic. So what you are really saying is you disagree with the extremely broad consensus that pastoral advice questions should be off-topic. That's fine. You don't have to agree, but you do have to respect the consensus.

As to other Stack Exchanges, coding advice is not analogous to religious advice, so that is a false analogy. Additionally, each Stack Exchange can and does set its own rules. There can't be a "double standard" between communities, because each operates independently.

Including the the word "you" doesn't make an answer pastoral advice. Telling a person what to do does. The answer on which the quoted comment comes from originally told the person to go to confession weekly and seek out a priest that holds to specific views. Additionally, my comment was offered in response to Helen posting a bunch more personal details to get a more personal answer. If that doesn't constitute seeking and giving pastoral advice, I don't know what does.

I was not attempting to "censor" anything and don't appreciate being described as such. I was informing a new user of the site policies which have been established via broad consensus.

  • Coding advice to is analogous to canon law advice. That's what I'm getting at. I'm sorry I didn't see helen's comment, but from the comments that were left, it seemed like you and dick were goading germina into self-censorship.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Jan 19, 2016 at 16:58
  • 2
    @Peter First, a coding question that is only useful to one person is highly discouraged (think "here is my broken code block, how do I fix it"), so even on SO an answer that only applies to a specific situation is generally a poor answer. More importantly, if you don't see how telling a person which kind of priest (i.e. one endorsed as "traditional" by Germina's link) to see & what religious practices to follow is not really appropriate, then I'm not sure what to say. I don't imagine you would appreciate someone telling Helen to, for example, leave the Catholic Church so she can divorce.
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 19, 2016 at 17:06
  • 1
    Yet, such (unsolicited) advice would be just as valid as "go to confession." Which is to say, not valid at all according to community agreed upon guidelines.
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 19, 2016 at 17:09
  • That's not right at all, but I forgive you for not understanding since you're not Catholic, I just wish in future cases you would not meddle in things you do not understand completely.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Jan 20, 2016 at 14:24
  • "Go to confession" in most cases, is not pastoral advice, but a precept of the Church. You should not receive other sacraments unless you're in a state of grace and there are instances of scandal where one is objectively in a state of mortal sin, therefore "go to confession" falls into the precept.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Jan 20, 2016 at 14:26
  • The list of "traditional" parishes that he offered are simply a list of parishes where the Mass is celebrated occasionally in Latin. It's not a list of SSPX schismatic parishes, it's a list of parishes who are doing what was specifically called out by Pope Benedict XVI; to offer an extraordinary form of the Mass. It's completely within the rights of a Catholic to seek out such a parish, and very likely that a priest will be there who will take ones worries seriously and not tell them that "all's well".
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Jan 20, 2016 at 14:30
  • @Peter You do realize that ALL pastoral advice stems from (or at least should stem from) church doctrine & canon law. Basically your position is, if the advice agrees with Catholic doctrine, then it is OK. I disagree - pastoral advice is pastoral advice, no matter how sound it is. (And I think the advice given was sound, just to be clear.)
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 20, 2016 at 20:56

On the one hand, "an answer cannot rightly take your personal situation into account." On the other hand, a situation that applies to one person may apply to others as well—and depending on the situation, not everyone may be qualified to make that judgment.

What, then, constitutes "your personal situation", and what constitutes "personal advice"?

As far as "your personal situation", I think that this phrase was intended to point out that often if people are asking for a course of action to be recommended, the best course to be recommended depends on circumstances which are not listed in the post, and by the nature of Stack Exchange it's extraordinarily difficult to get at all the circumstances which may be relevant to the best course of advice. This is one (but only one) of the reasons we don't answer, or allow, "pastoral advice" questions.

It's also possible, though, that people could flood a question with details that look like they might be important, but in fact are irrelevant. The best course of action in this case is for an experienced user to edit them out, with a note to the poster about what is happening and why, and a request to review the edited question to ensure it matches the substance of their original request.

Thus, "an answer cannot take your personal situation into account" means that we need to be aware that requests for advice ("What should I do? How should I say ... ? How should I behave?" etc.) most often require far more detail than we should expect to get, so that we really can't give an answer, even a "just one thing" kind of answer, to these kinds of questions, since we don't have all the information. It does not mean that we cannot take a situation that seems to apply to one person and abstract the relevant details without changing the question.

So what about "personal advice"?

I agree with Peter Turner that mere use of the word "you" doesn't in itself constitute advice: "you will need to" or "you must" or even "you should" might mean "one" rather than "the poster of the question", depending on context. I can imagine that even some instances of using "you" to mean "the poster" might be acceptable, depending on context.

However, any instruction given should be supported as far as explaining exactly how it is relevant to the question. If (for example) someone asks a question asking whether abortion is a mortal sin, an answer which comments "You need to go to Confession" should be prepared to support the idea that going to Confession helps to determine whether abortion is a mortal sin (rather than, in this case, following from the fact). Unsupported instruction of this sort, in my opinion, is not part of an answer, but advice given based on the answer, and thus is to be avoided.


If I asked "How do I parse HTML with a regexp?" on StackOverflow my answer would be "You're doing it all wrong, you need to get a clue you buffoon." Not sure why we need to carve out a double standard here.

This is an accurate comparison because the scope of this site Q and A on about facts of our religion. Religion is an attempt to reconnect ourselves with God as coding is an attempt to reconnect our bytes with an algorithm. Ideally those bytes would just fall in to place and we'd have a perfect program. Ideally we wouldn't have original sin. Often the case is "you're doing it all wrong". In that case, it would not be charitable (or even correct) to fail to point this out.

My personal opinion is

  1. That we should be over-scrupulous with the offering of advice, so long as it's not just opinion
  2. If we see people offering advice to-and-from different faith traditions, it's best to lay off because you may be interjecting your opinion about what they consider to be "pastoral advice" vs "following the precepts" (how can you tell the difference if you don't even know the precepts?)
  3. This is Q and A, not Wikipedia. Answers found here come from humans, they're not supposed to be perfect, the vote their given is what is indicative of their level of perfection.

  1. Traditional Catholicism means orthodox Catholicism and it's totally in line with the Pope. Everything about that question suggested she wanted answers from an orthodox perspective. Who asks questions to get wishy-washy answers anyway? You can just make those up for yourself.

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