My nose may be over-sensitive, but I smell trouble.
There are indications that the Catholic Church can follow our own C of E into the abyss of secular PC modernity.
To begin with, when a conservative organisation, which the Church is supposed to be by definition, uses modern polling methods to determine its policy, alarm bells ought to start ringing in every belfry.
Yet that’s what the Vatican did when last year questionnaires were sent to 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world. Considering that about half of them are undereducated Latin American peasants, the polls probed rather deeply into some recondite theological areas.
Here are two sample questions:
Question 1 a): “Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today?”
Question 2 a): “What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?”
It may be disrespectful but true to suggest that even many seminary-educated priests would struggle with such queries. As to the lay Catholics in underprivileged parts of the world, their idea of the natural law is probably vendetta bequeathed from one generation to another.
Anyway, the results are now in and – make sure you’re sitting down, the shock will be so overpowering – most Catholics don’t seem to follow the Church’s dicta on such things as sex before, in or outside marriage, divorce, contraception and cohabitation, heterosexual or otherwise.
In fact, as the Church concedes, its stand on such issues is “commonly perceived today as an intrusion in the intimate life of the couple”.
Now, by unerringly predicting such findings, any sensible person could have spared the Vatican the vast expense of producing and distributing hundreds of millions of questionnaires.
Overwhelming empirical evidence aside, even cursory familiarity with Genesis would lead to the conclusion that most people are sinners. If that weren’t the case, Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular would be superfluous.
Let my learned Catholic friends correct me, but my impression is that this institution, and others like it, have been brought into this world precisely to assist people’s salvation in spite of their being sinners.
Part of this mission has to be communicating in no uncertain terms what sin is and how it must be avoided or, that failing, repented and atoned.
Yet the Church’s reaction to the poll results seems to be that, if most people sin against its doctrine, the doctrine must be revised and the very concept of sin redefined.
This reaction is as predictable as the results themselves. After all, what would have been the point of wasting millions on this poll if the Church hadn’t been prepared to readjust its doctrine to public opinion?
To be sure, Church officials couched their plans in the language of public relations. They didn’t come out and say that the doctrine was going to be changed. Instead Monsignor Bruno Forte only said that “We will not close our eyes to anything. These problems will be considered.”
What problems would they be? That most people are sinners? One would suggest that this problem has been adequately covered both in the Scripture and the subsequent theological literature.
And what’s the point in considering such problems, or indeed finding out about them by sending out useless questionnaires, if the Church remains firm in its adherence to doctrine?
The only proper response to such findings would be that the Church must redouble its efforts in offering doctrinal guidance to parishioners, telling them what’s right and what’s wrong, perhaps explaining to them that their salvation may be compromised if they go wrong.
After all, even secular laws don’t automatically change because many people break them. Nor are they adjusted to accommodate lawbreakers. If they were, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, to name just one department, would have to be abolished.
One would expect an even greater rigidity in matters of Church doctrine. Alas, secular trends inspired by political correctness these days trump tradition everywhere you look. This, regrettably, includes even organisations whose raison d’être is to protect tradition from secular fads.