The Catholic Church must challenge the culture with the truth of God’s revelation in Christ
By Deacon Bob Hunt
Whether it is justified or not, there is no question that Catholics who desire to reconsider or who even demand changes in some of the Church’s centuries-old teachings, particularly on moral matters related to sexuality, have felt emboldened by the papacy of Pope Francis to push the doctrinal envelope in hopes that the Holy Father and the Church will embrace their positions.
Catholics dedicated to those centuries-old teachings are regularly rebuked by their “progressive” confreres for failing to fall in line with what is claimed to be the Church’s new attitude toward sex, marriage, and a host of other moral matters inspired, they insist, by Pope Francis. It sometimes comes as a shock for these “progressive”-thinking Catholics, then, and even more so to their allies in the secular media, when Pope Francis makes a statement supportive of the Church’s traditional teachings.
This is nowhere more evident than in the controversies surrounding the German Synodal Way. The Catholics of Germany, led (or followed?) by many of their bishops, are demanding that the Church reconsider or change her teachings on many aspects of sexual morality and on matters of Church governance.
They are calling for the ordination of women to the priesthood, the ordination of married men to the priesthood, the acceptance of homosexual sexual acts, the acceptance of same-sex marriage, and for the laity to have more say in who is chosen to be a bishop. These demands reflect changes in governance, sacramental theology, and sexual morality contrary to what the Church has practiced and taught for centuries, sometimes from the earliest decades of her existence.
Letters to the Church in Germany calling on them to step back from the precipice of heresy and schism have been sent from English-speaking bishops around the world, from Nordic bishops, and from Polish bishops. Pope Francis himself has warned against the German Church separating itself from the universal Church.
These seem to have had little impact on Germany’s intent to revolutionize Church morals, or on others who seem confident that the forces of social, cultural, and political pressure will inspire the Church to change her teachings. That is not going to happen, for as much as German and other “progressive” Catholics insist that the faithful have not embraced the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and a priesthood restricted to men, the reality is that they are speaking largely of their own flocks in the West, and even there it is limited.
Many Catholics in Africa, South America, and Asia—and even many in the West—have embraced the Church’s teachings on these matters and have no desire to change them.
It seems the Catholics in Germany regard themselves as the only Catholics in the world—or the only Catholics who count. Since they have not embraced these teachings, it must be that the entirety of the faithful has not done so. How arrogant! How Euro-centric! Of course, the real reason the Church in Germany needs to be called back to the faithful proclamation of the Church’s counter-cultural teachings is not simply that they manifest a different set of priorities than those of most Catholics in the world, but for the basic reason that they are true, that they represent the revelation of God given to us in Christ and through His Church.
It needs to be clear that efforts to change Church teachings on moral matters do not represent the development of doctrine, as much as their proponents might insist. They represent a break from Church teaching, a rejection of what the Church has taught as God’s revelation to us. The goal of that break is nothing other than accommodation to the contemporary culture of the West. Proponents will insist that the Church must change in order to recapture the imaginations of modern men and women, who are supposedly leaving the Church in droves. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It has long been established that those who leave a church because that church does not teach what they believe do not return to that church once that church has changed its teachings. They demand change, but they do not “reward” the church that changes with their renewed presence or support. No, they remain outside, demanding even more changes.
The list is long of those churches in the Christian tradition who have surrendered the integrity of their doctrine for the sake of accommodating the culture. None of these churches have experienced a rebound in membership after they changed their teachings.
The Catholic Church must never change her doctrines to accommodate the culture for two reasons:
- First, it will not work. Those demanding change will not return to the Church or stay in the Church (even as much as they can be said to be in the Church). They will remain outside demanding even more changes.
- Second, it is not for the Church to accommodate the culture. It is for the Church to challenge the culture with the truth of God’s revelation in Christ. How can the Church do that if she abandons that revelation?
It is not for us to change the truth, as if we could. It is for us to speak the truth with passion and conviction—to proclaim God’s revelation in all circumstances for the sake of our salvation and that of the whole world.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Deacon Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville.