Friday, January 11, 2019

Catholic teachings change

In a conversation about the Catholic Church's infallibility doctrine, someone insisted that its teachings have never changed. This claim upholds its infallibility doctrine, but the claim is easy to refute. I quickly compiled this list.

The Church changed its teaching on slavery. In Paul's Letter to Philemon, he assumes that the slaveholder Philemon rightfully owns his slave Onesimus but urges Philemon to treat Onesimus kindly. Today the Church teaches that slavery is intrinsically sinful or always wrong.

The Church changed its teaching on usury by first saying it's always wrong to saying we ought to charge interest fairly and reasonably.

The Church changed its teaching on cosmology. I need only mention Galileo, whom the Inquisition found guilty of heresy and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for saying the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth.

The Church changed its teachings on women and this change continues. Hierarchical statements in the past disrespected women to the point of doubting women have souls. Today official rhetoric professes to respect women, but actions demonstrate unwillingness to share power with them. Unofficial attitudes range from ignorant bias to pressuring the official Church for more women in decision-making roles. Most Church faithful disagree with the official ban on ordination of women.

The Church continues to change its positions on gender and sexual matters, including the hot-button issues of gays, contraception, divorce, and women's ordination. Again, people outside of the hierarchy or magisterium are leading the way.

Decades ago, international aid organizations started realizing the need to listen to and learn from people in communities they wanted to help. Catholic officials need to do this, but fiercely they resist. I think their resistance is driven by fear and hatred of women's sexuality and power.

So far the magisterium still controls; Vatican bureaucracies remain in place. But they can't prevail much longer. A shift away from top-down decisions is happening in all society and affecting the institutional Church.

Clergy sex abuse finally prods lay Catholics, especially women--as in secular society--to reject the authority of the Vatican. Individuals bypass it and make their own decisions on deeply personal matters. Inevitably, lay Catholics will triumph and change official positions on issues that inflame public discourse.

The question is, how long will it take? And how many more Catholics will leave in the meantime?

Changes on issues inflaming public debate work hand in hand with changes in teachings on divinity and our relationship with it. Libraries are filled with them. Catholic educators today include science and other religions in reflections on transcendence. I detect less focus on the Father/Son myth and more focus on teachings of Jesus. I hope this leads away from worshiping God-images to building healthy relationships.

Although the Catholic Church is changing, its pace is too slow for me. I don't go to Catholic sources when I seek spiritual guidance, but my Catholic heritage accompanies me always. I find that, when an author affects me deeply, he or she often was nurtured by the Catholic Church and then moved on. It suggests that others are walking a path like mine.

For religion it is the best of times and the worst of times. As the shrinking globe feeds religious imagination a richer diet, it is forced to grow beyond the restricted images of one religion. Traditional religions are giving way to generic or what I call secular spirituality, independent of religion. It is an exhilarating time to live.


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