from The Daily Telegraph
by Dr. Tim Stanley
The media presents us today with a typical non-story that tells us two completely unsurprising things about the Roman Catholic Church. A) The results of its family survey reveal that millions of Catholics ignore doctrinal teachings on sex and contraception and B) the Church wishes to show greater tolerance to those in broken or non-heterosexual families.
The first proposition is so unremarkable as to be not worth remarking upon. Except to say that one of the chief causes of the laity’s ignorance of what their Church teaches on sex is down to the fact that – despite the media’s claims to the contrary – the Church never talks about sex. I have never once sat through a sermon in which a priest has railed against the evils of condoms or given an illustrated lecture on the benefits of the withdrawal method. Not that I would wish Fr MacKenzie to do either. But the fact that the laity’s family and religious lives are sometimes lived at odds with each other cries out for the Church to catechise them better, preferably in school.
What the situation does not call for is a rewrite of Church doctrine: something that will not happen and which, thankfully, cannot happen. The Church cannot be wrong about one thing because it casts doubt on everything else. In other words, if the Church got it wrong on divorce, did it get it wrong on the divinity of Christ or the virginity of Mary? Every aspect of doctrine corresponds to each other – think of Catholic theology as a delicate, perfect spider’s web whose integrity of structure depends upon preserving each, precious strand. The use of contraception betrays the Church’s teaching that all sex must be unitive and procreative. The Catholics have believed that going all the way back to the early Church fathers – and they ain’t gonna change their minds now.
Indeed, the Church’s response to the survey was a very orthodox one. It has affirmed its essential teachings, including in the area of contraception. True, it has spoken of the need to “simplify and streamline procedures for the annulment of marriages” – but annulment is a perfectly Christian idea that the Church has always endorsed. True, also, that it has said that gays and lesbians should be treated in a “respectful, non-judgmental” way – but, again, this is entirely congruent with a Church doctrine that says that LGBTQ people have as much human dignity as everyone else. The Church added that there will be no movement on the subject of gay marriage. Anyone expect such a thing would be a fool: it would require a complete overhaul of the faith. Moreover, anyone who thinks that Catholics might shift on divorce is not only living in another universe but unfamiliar with Matthew 19.
We did learn some interesting things from the survey. One, as the ever incisive Luke Coppen points out, is that the laity has varying views on what the Church’s priorities should be: “While Europeans may be concerned with Communion for the remarried, Latin Americans are preoccupied by the plight of poor single mothers, Africans worry about the prohibitive cost of weddings and Asians fret about excessive pressure on schoolchildren.” In other words, obsession about sexual freedom is a Western thing. In other parts of the world, folks are more concerned with feeding themselves.
Another discovery is that Pope Francis’ determination to make the Church more humble is having an effect. The Vatican acknowledges that the child abuse scandal has shaken faith in the Church and this survey process should be seen as an effort to reconnect clerical leadership with the laity. That can only be a good thing.
Francis’ papacy represents a revitalisation of the spirit of the Church. The Pope is a perfect example of what every priest should be: energetic and compassionate. But he does not support a revolution in Church teaching and critics are deluding themselves if they expect to see one. The Catholic Church does not do change, and it shouldn’t. Not if it believes that what it believes is the Truth.