There is a great deal of demand from the chattering classes in what passes for the “news” industry that the Catholic Church should change Her moral teachings on issues such as contraception and marriage once a new Pope is elected. The election of a new Pope, they argue, surely heralds a changing Church; a new Pope will necessarily be more open to the new (lack of) morality pervading our culture than “archconservative” Benedict XVI.
This speculation is complete nonsense, characteristic of a profession that knows little of the Catholic Church except its loathing for Her. The Church would never be foolish enough to change Her teachings for the sake of temporary popularity. For the leaders of the Catholic Church know well that if the Church were to change Her teachings, She would be signing Her own death warrant.
Better no church than a mutable church. The Catholic Church is not a social club with arbitrary rules and regulations. She is not a political entity that seeks to protect Her power by compromising with competing factions. The Catholic Church claims to be the keeper of Christ’s unchanging teaching, and that obedience to Christ’s teaching is the path to paradise.
The Catholic Church must therefore assert that Her moral teaching is unchanging; if She held otherwise, Her very existence would be execrable. As the keeper of Christ’s unchanging teaching, She claims the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.
If She did not claim infallibility in these matters, She would be admitting that God did not entrust His teaching to Her. This, of course, would mean that the Catholic Church lied, and therefore could not be trusted on any issue. Why adhere to a changing faith that claims to worship an unchanging God? A mutable faith is damnable – an affront to human dignity, a human invention that holds men in thrall to a quicksand of strictures.
If the Church were to change any of Her moral teachings to suit the whims of the world, then She would admit that Her teachings are not of God, and Her moral authority would be compromised forever.
The vitriol of those who loathe the Church would be justified if the Church could simply change Her moral teachings in the face of societal pressure. If change in Her moral teachings were possible, all Her moral rules would merely be shackles forged by presumptuous men, preventing people from attaining pleasure.
But if the Church claims to be the keeper of Christ’s truth, then She must oppose the world when the world opposes Her teachings. Yes, the Catholic can change her methods of instruction and tweak Her disciplines. She could theoretically allow priests to marry; She can embrace social media, She can forbid or permit Her followers to eat meat on Fridays. But she cannot alter Her teachings on the Trinity or Her views on marriage, any more than She could repeal the laws of thermodynamics or square the circle.
The Catholic Church’s insistence on Her moral authority puts necessarily Her in opposition to society’s zeitgeist. The prophets of permissive morality boast that the world has outgrown archaic Christian moral teachings, and that the pressures of world opinion will eventually force a recalcitrant Catholic Church to change Her moral teaching. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times expressed the worldly wisdom of many when he tweeted: “At some point, the church will accept contraception and female and non-celibate priests. Could it be in the next papacy?”
But the Catholic Church views modernity’s opposition to Her moral teachings as a symptom of a world embracing madness. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago thus eloquently condemned modernity’s embrace of same-sex marriage as an affront to sanity: “A proposal to change this truth about marriage in civil law is less a threat to religion than it is an affront to human reason and the common good of society. It means we are all to pretend to accept something we know is physically impossible. The Legislature might just as well repeal the law of gravity.”