Is the Church going to change? What will Pope Francis do? In his new book, “The Future of Catholicism,” (Signal) Michael Coren addresses these and other questions that have been the subject of so much media speculation.
Coren, the author of many books on Church issues and Catholic topics, asked in his introduction where it might be that the Church needs to change and what is it that cannot be changed.
Change, he observed, in the sense of following the latest intellectual trends, is simply foreign to how the Church functions, based as it is on something quite different from the opinions expressed at a dinner party.
Revelation, handed down to us from God, cannot be changed at whim. Yes, the Church does have the power of loosing and binding (Mt. 18:18), but it is a power exercised within the context of divinely revealed truth.
This means, he acknowledged, that the Church will come into conflict with public opinion, and also with state laws.
For example, on the issue of same-sex “marriage” he explained that: “Marriage is a Sacrament, sexual union has a specific purpose, and the Church can no more affirm homosexual behavior than it can abandon Jesus Christ.”
Yet, we find ourselves in a time when “support for same-sex marriage has become one of the central litmus tests for social acceptability and inclusion in the body politic and polite society,” Coren observed.
In spite of the pressure the Church will face on this issue it cannot and will not change its teaching. It is important, he added, to understand why this is the case.
It is not about being intolerant towards homosexuals, he explained, but instead why it is that the Church defends the sacrament of marriage.
What is at stake is a whole range of truths the Church upholds on marriage, the family, children, human dignity and natural law. Moral absolutes do exist in Catholic teaching, Coren noted, and for that very reason they are not going to change, no matter how out of fashion they may be with the latest trends in contemporary culture.
Abortion, contraception, and euthanasia are other issues that Coren explored. Pope Francis, he commented, “is in no way going to change Catholic teaching regarding the unborn.”
In the future the Church will be misunderstood, criticized and face anger “over its refusal to conform to a sexualized culture that has misplaced love and transformed sex and sexuality into a deity,” Coren said.
Quoting John Paul II he said that true freedom is not the possibility to do whatever we wish, but is something that needs to be exercised in union with what are fundamental moral values.
Coren goes on to examine many other topical issues, such as female priests, married priests, and the future of the papacy.
In a chapter on Church and state he touched upon the controversies regarding the Kennedy family, Nancy Pelosi, the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and observed that the Church will continue to remind people about the need for integrity and religious and moral consistency, “in an age that refuses to appreciate and understand either.”
The possibility of changing Church teaching is quite different when it comes to the area of organizational or disciplinary measures.
One of the issues very much at the forefront in terms of Vatican reforms is the matter of finances. Coren explained that the popes had already started to improve matters with the appointment by John Paul II of Cardinal Edmund Szoka to modernize the accounting system.
Then, Benedict XVI took further measures to adopt the financial standards of Moneyval, a European body established to guard against money laundering and financing of terrorism.
Pope Francis is continuing the reforms and, Coren affirmed, while there is relatively little financial corruption in the Vatican curia, there is a need for greater competence and transparency, so this is one area where change is needed.
The Curia, he added, “has to be dragged several hundred years into the modern and future age.”
At the same time, while admitting a need for these changes, and while also insisting that the Church needs to use the media better, Coren argued that it is a serious mistake to think there need to be changes to make the Church more “relevant” or “fashionable.”
“The truths may be told in a different form, may be expressed in a new format and even communicated in a way that some of us will find novel and challenging, but they will be the same truths,” Coren concluded in his closing remarks.
Anyone who wants some good pointers on where the Church might be headed in the near future will find some very good advice in Coren’s book.