Two weeks ago, I said that the Pope and I felt the same way about Church Laws. We continually ask the question: “What good are they?”
Two days ago, Mr. Douglas Harden wrote a letter to the Editors at the Macon Telegraph with grave and coherent objections to my article. His first correction was absolutely on target: I did not distinguish between the violation of a dogma (heresy) and the violation of a Church law (mortal sin). Most Catholics inadvertently merge the two just as I did, but Mr. Harden—to his credit—doesn’t.
The second point of his well-researched and extremely well-written letter was this, and I quote: “The infallibility of the Magisterium does not and has not changed in the 2000 year history of the faith.”
This is the first place where we differ. Just one example: the Magisterium (the teaching arm of the Church) sanctioned slavery for more than a thousand years, and then changed its position. It could change its position again for Gay marriage and remarried Catholics. Even though these Church laws were labeled “irreformable and definitive” when they oozed out of Rome, Pope Francis is free to ask: “what good are they now?”
Thirdly, Mr. Harden said I misquoted the Pope on Gays. I didn’t. The Pope said “Who am I to judge?” I think Mr. Harden wishes the Pope had said: “Well, Gay marriage is sinful but we must love these sinners.” But he didn’t say that. He said: “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” You can spin and twist “accepting the Lord” and “goodwill” into “give up Gay marriage,” but that’s not what he said.
Now I am not saying that the Pope is sanctioning Gay marriage and remarried Catholics but he has questioned the necessity of both laws that punish these people. He is admitting that these laws exist, but he is encouraging all of us to ask if they are still relevant. Americans have been questioning President Obama’s policies for several years; last week they went to the polls and made a change. Catholics, who incidentally, are part of the Magisterium, can do the same thing, and certainly, the Pope, who is the Head of this teaching body, can issue his own “executive orders.”
Next, Mr. Harden mentioned that valid Catholic marriages can only be broken by the canonical process of annulment—as if this were some sign from heaven that the marriage really wasn’t valid from the beginning. The Pope said last week that this was up for questioning, too. I’m glad. Ask any priest who has worked in the Bishop’s Chancery office (where annulments are issued) what percentage of the annulment is theology and what percentage is money and politics. This hypocritical system must be eliminated.
Finally, Mr. Harden talked about Canon Law as if it were static. It isn’t. The Church has been writing laws since the year 325 AD when the newly converted emperor herded the Bishops into the town of Nicaea and forced them to write the “laws” of the Church, and Bishops and Popes have been rewriting and changing them ever since.
But I understand Catholics like Mr. Harden. They would love to have a Church that is stable and solid and unchanging. As they look back in history, they disguise the changes the Church has already made, and try to hold onto this myth as if it were history. It’s more comfortable that way. I hear there’s a movement underway to depose Pope Francis and reinstall his conservative predecessor, Benedict XVI, who never questioned Church laws. Some people just can’t stand change.
Pope Francis sees the Church as ever-changing and is continuously trying to meet the changing minds and hearts of people everywhere. He finds no problem with making the Church relevant even if this means making changes.
Otherwise, as the two of us have always said: “What good is it?”