Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions
lithe Church has changed its teaching in the past, why can it not change its teaching on matters such as the ordination of women in the figure? Surely the Poe !r recent apology for the sins of the Church is an admittance that her teachings were erroneous, say on such issues as the Crusades. the Inquisition, usury and Judaism?
THE ANSWER TO THIS query is going to be a tad "iffy". The problem with constant revisionism is that it always assumes three things: a) the Church is a polity which is designed to promote a manifesto that it is entirely negotiable in order to win over the punter; h) the positions of both its teachers and theologians bear no relationship to reality and the larger exigencies of Truth; c) the old maxim ecclesia sewer reformanda is mistranslated as the Church is always in need of reformation" when it really means, the people of God are always in
need of conversion".
Revisionism is every committee's dream, of course, because it keeps its members in work, but the reader needs to recall that Church teaching is an act of responsibility to metaphysical Truth, not just an exercise in kow-towing to one society's view of what is public opinion on any given Sunday.
The sceptical Mgr Gilbey, known as England's bestdressed clergyman, used to say: "an obsession with Truth is the characteristic note of the Catholic Church." "I wish!" or "in your dreams!" some media agencies might respond. Many critics of Mgr Gilbey would question such piety in light of recent TV appearances of Christian prelates. Being economical with the truth has become a benchmark of Welsh clerics, it would appear.
Unlike some churches where synods vote on important Christian doctrines as if they were policy changes, in the Catholic Church there are clear criteria for the elaboration of a doctrine from the smelting point of theological inquiry and insight. Or are there? Speaking personally, an authentic development must find a sanction or at least a viable echo in either one of the twin sources of the Word of God, Scripture or Tradition.
Now this does not happen when there is little responsibility to truth, a point made in the Papal encyclical on Faith and Reason (FR 66-70). In fact, there is always a market for truth, less for honesty, and, however, unpalatable they may appear, even for the eternal pronouncements of the Creator of the Cosmos "I was born for this -I came into the world for this to bear witness to the truth," says Christ before the hapless Pilate. Pilate's remark, "What is truth?", was a death sentence pronounced inadvertently on the entire Roman legal system. So what of consultation as an aid to prizing from the Spirit some hint of the eternal dictates?
Certainly "consulting the faithful" is in but it really means consulting those who are bonded to the Church through the profession of faith, hierarchical communion and sacramental life (can. 205), not running a MORI poll outside Liberty.
Needless to say, in this response we are accepting that the reader has made a distinction not only between matters of mere discipline and matters of doctrine, but also between magisterium and theology. The opinions of theologians do not impinge on the consciences of the faithful, but the distilled reflections and precepts of the magisterium do. It is important therefore, to have a catechism at hand and to distinguish dogma, defined doctrine, ordinary teaching and probable deliberation. Also the relevant question for the reader to pose of any Church pronouncement will be what is the authority of the person making this pronouncement and what kind of statement is being proposed?
The pronouncements that are sometimes made in different epochs as practical or rational responses to the needs of the time are not the same as pronouncements of the college of bishops or Popes touching on mattee: of faith. Thus the tit the Crusad, distuiguishcsi frot■ say an Ecumenical Cucu ,L+,.•11aS Trent 01 I. ')Ile jutipnent re i a
particular time and place on a very specific disciplinary matter, the other a determination of doctrine.
Similarly, while today we see violence in the service of truth as reprehensible (because Truth must be its own force), still the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 may be regarded as one instance when the Church was involved in a struggle to protect the life of Western civilisation. A Church in that time which was open to constant seizure by "the men of violence" would not have found the time to get the business of preaching the Gospel up and running.
So here a campaign to secure determinate benefits at a certain period may not necessarily be a bad thing the Gospel has to be preached by real, not virtual, people. Moreover with respect to the preaching of the Crusades, more anon, but the Church has always distinguished between the person and the office with regard to the sins of alleged personalities, such as Francesco Borgia.
In his recent Letter to Priests (20.IV.2000) from the Upper Room in Jerusalem, the Boss asked why we really should feign shock at the failings of the clergy, given the kind of men and women that were gathered around Jesus in that room 2000 years ago. Peter denied Christ three times and Judas betrayed Him for a pension. They were hardly terrorists.
Not all Popes then have been saints, but this is less important than the question of whether the rogues, if there were any, tampered with the corpus of the Church's essential teaching in order to rationalise say "extra-curricular activity". Sin and error can only be confused by an age which is used to rationalising a dodgy moral existence and calling it moral theology. As a ballerina once said of such "thinkers" "hello?"
We are reminded of liturgists who tell bishops that they preside over the Word of God an altogether fanciful notion, hut maybe one that explains the outbreak of wishful thinking reported by the reader. Consequently, the distinguished prelate of a church that is established by law, who suggested on the radio that the March gig was an admission that Papal infallibility was wrong, may need to be acquainted with a picture of the id whose pardon was
1,0o i ight then I for one .1 ) to Christian artist ft t1d render the Son of Ciod in a funny hat, swaying to a gaggle of guitars and banging a tambourine on hips swathed in jewel-encrusted copes. Sall, I am always open to correction from minions who can read the verso page of the 26th edition of Nestle and Aland.