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Suppose We Had a "Liberal" Pope | By James V. Schall, S. J.
From various sources, here and abroad, I have heard that not a few are "disappointed"
at the election of
Pope Benedict XVI.
When we examine what they are "disappointed" about, we find that
it is about "moral" things. They hoped that the Church would finally
be "up-to-date." What this being "up-to-date" usually
means is that the Church will finally approve of birth control, abortion,
cloning, the ordination of women, divorce, gay life and marriage, and other
pious habits. Seldom do we hear any other reasons for "disappointment."
Thus, what the essence of such objections comes down to is that the Church,
in being what it is, is wrong on such fundamental points.
Being "wrong," evidently, means that a mere flick of the papal
wrist can set things right. All Pope Ratzinger has to do is sign a document
stating that abortion, divorce, ordination of women, birth control, and
gaydom are just what we need in the modern world to cure its ills. Behind
this kind of attitude, of course, is the theoretical position that the criterion
of truth is what is presumably accepted and practiced in the modern world.
Evidently, if the opposite of these "views" is accepted in some
past or future time, that is just fine. So it is important to see that the
principle used to justify the position for establishing these things as
licit is usually that of time. That is, anyone who does not accept this
view is "out of date." Few arguments about why they are or are
not are actually given. But the arguments are what count. As Chesterton
said, a thing that is not true in one age cannot really be true in any other
age. Principle, not time, determines truth.
But for the sake of argument, let us suppose that the new Pope actually
thinks he can do what the modern world insists is necessary to be "up
to date." Suddenly, Rome, in a world-wide announcement, agrees that
abortion, birth control, euthanasia, divorce, cloning, gay life, whatever,
are just fine.
The question immediately becomes, where are we?"
We have long noticed that many Protestant and
even Catholic folks, not to mention unbelievers and those of other persuasions,
do promote and practice these things as if they were the solution to modern
problems. They are annoyed and perplexed to be at odds with the traditional
teaching of the Church. But their dreams have been answered. The pope is
suddenly "liberal." He now "understands" the modern
world and its "needs." What was formerly officially wrong is now
officially right. No more opposition to such practices in the modern world.
What would follow if this were to happen?
The first consequence would be that anyone with a half a mind will realize
that the Church has contradicted its own solemnly sworn and defined principles.
In other words, on its own grounds, it is not worth believing. It has rejected
its one claim to credibility, that is, its adherence to the stated deposit
of faith and the teachings that flowed from this. In fact, it now agrees
that what was wrong in one era is right in another.
Who would really rejoice at this reversal? Those who think that these practices
are the solution to modern problems would not change, nor would they any
longer have any reason to question their own presuppositions about such
matters. Those who thought the teachings of the Church were solid and theologically
grounded, however, will be logical enough to realize that a Church that
approves such modern practices, after insisting for so long that they were
wrong, is not worth its salt. Such a Church would have absolutely no credibility.
If the Church, over its long history, insists that some thing is wrong,
then it suddenly decides that what is wrong is right, what follows? What
follows is simply that no one, believer or non-believer, should ever again
give such a Church second thought. It cannot, on these premises, be true.
So what those who advocate abortion, birth control, gay life, euthanasia,
cloning, and what not really are seeking is the undermining of the one authority
in the world that says these practices and those who choose them are wrongwrong
before God and before themselves. The Church did not itself concoct these
theories as if it could fashion what it wanted, as those who want it to
radically change think it can.
Such people do not understand that the only claim the Church has to our
belief is its faithful consistency to the deposit of faith, which it did
not somehow "make up" by itself. Once this position is internally
and intrinsically underminedas it would be if the Church approved
these thingsit would have absolutely no claim to anyones belief,
or even anyones taking it seriously.
Under the rubric of the advent of a "liberal" pope, we have, in
fact, the desire that the authority of the papacy to credibility be itself
eliminated. This is what is at stake in the election of a pope. We should
not doubt it.
Fr. James V. Schall,
S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University
and the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of
Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing,
Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal
Learning. Read more of his essays on his
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