Should Catholics Keep Up With The Times?

Or is it time to slow down?

William Kilpatrick is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.  His books include Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press), What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Press), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, one of the Church’s leading prelates, has called for a revision of Catholic teaching on homosexuality.  Why?  Well, because “the Church has always moved with the times and has always adapted.”

Only, “today we must be faster,” says Hollerich, because “the change in Civilization we are witnessing today is the greatest change since the invention of the wheel.”

I don’t know if Hollerich is old enough to remember, but the same thing was being said by many in the 1960s.  In that era, it sure looked like the times they were “a changing.”  People wore bell-bottoms, beads, and tie-dyed shirts.  The Civil Rights Movement was changing the way we thought about race.  The Beatles were all the rage.  And students were taking over colleges and universities all across the nation.

Moreover, the sexual revolution was in full swing.  Women wore mini-skirts.  New types of sexually transmitted diseases were discovered almost monthly.  And movie theaters featured films like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  Meanwhile, nuns and priests were leaving the Church in droves in search of self-fulfillment.

Back then, as now, many in the Catholic Church called for changes that would enable the Church to get with the changing times.  If only priests could marry or women could become priests, it was argued, the Church would become relevant to the modern world, and modern people would fill the churches.

Those two changes were never enacted, but numerous other reforms were.  The Mass in Latin was replaced with the Mass in the vernacular, Gregorian Chant was replaced with folk-rock, religious studies texts were rewritten to reflect the latest theories in psychology, priests winked at contraception and out-of-wedlock sexual activity; and, in general, the clergy took a much more relaxed attitude toward sexual sins.

Over the years there were many other changes—most of them aimed at helping people feel more welcome in the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless, this more inclusive and permissive Church failed to attract the expected numbers.  As the Church came to resemble the world in outlook and attitude, the world became less interested in the Church, not more.  When sermons began to sound like editorials in the New York Times, more and more people opted to stay at home on Sunday mornings and read the Times.

Yet Cardinal Hollerich thinks it’s worth giving this failed formula one more try.  Like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times trying his best to keep up with fast moving machinery in the modern factory, Hollerich says “we must be faster.”  “Otherwise,” he continues, “we lose contact and can no more be understood.”

The trouble is, in trying to maintain contact with the faster moving elements of society, Hollerich seems to have lost contact with the Church he is supposed to represent.  Instead of referring to Church teaching or to scripture, he tells us to follow the science.  “I believe,” he says, “that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching [the sinfulness of homosexuality] is no longer correct.”  Apparently, the latest sociological-scientific evidence shows that God’s view of sexuality can be safely ignored.

Can we expect, then, that further sociological-scientific research will determine that dishonoring your parents is merely a normal variation within the spectrum of human behavior?  Since when does science have the last word on what is sinful and what is not?

I suspect, however, that what guides Hollerich’s thinking is not the approval of science, but the approval of society.  He simply asserts that if homosexual behavior has become more socially acceptable, then it must be time for the Church to adapt and get with the times.

A similar mentality was revealed recently when German bishops welcomed an initiative by “# Out in Church”—a group of 125 “queer” employees of the Catholic Church in Germany—calling for a change in Church teaching on sexuality and gender identity.  According to the organizers of the campaign, “defamatory and outdated statements of Church doctrine on sexuality and gender need to be revised on the basis of theological and human-scientific findings.”

Note the word “outdated.”  Just as bustles and bell-bottoms have gone out of fashion, so also, it seems, can Church doctrine.  But should doctrines about right and wrong be determined by changing fashions?  Or by polls?  In fact, the polls show that a majority of U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage. If a head count is what counts, then Hollerich’s policy of full-speed ahead is the right one.

Homosexuality is not only acceptable it has also become fashionable.   The same is true of transgenderism.  It’s become fashionable for teenagers to declare themselves to be members of the opposite sex, and it’s become fashionable for adults to applaud them for it.  But do we want fashion to be the arbiter of morality?  According to scripture, homosexual behavior was quite fashionable in the city of Sodom, yet God was not pleased.

One could come up with a long list of once unacceptable behaviors, that are now widely accepted because we’ve come to believe that no judgments should be made about an individual’s freely chosen lifestyle.

Cardinal Hollerich, who heads up the highly influential Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the EU (COMECE), wants the Church to base its moral teaching on a very shaky foundation.  He is, of course, being applauded by the usual suspects for his enlightenment and courage.  But it doesn’t take much courage these days to take such a stance.  In fact, taking a relaxed attitude toward all forms of human sexuality has become very much the fashion among progressive Catholics.

Fortunately, there are still Catholics—both heterosexual and homosexual—who are not slaves to fashion, and who can see that Cardinal Hollerich’s desire to base Church teaching on current “scientific” opinion and present-day practices is a formula for disaster.  As William Inge, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, observed many years ago, “whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”

Of course, up-to-date-ism is a temptation not only for church-goers, but for society as a whole.  When so tempted, it’s well to remember that following the crowd only ensures that you end up where the rest of the crowd ends up.

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