Is Catholicism Resistant to Change?

Will the World Wide Catholic Synod change anything in the Catholic Church?

Pope Francis at St. Peter’s

Melissa Wilde, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania wrote in The Conversation,

 “When Pope John XXIII announced the council in 1958, there was no real crisis in the church. It was, by many measures, a healthy, if ancient institution.

But today, the Catholic Church is facing a crisis: In many places of the world, mass attendance is down and a growing number of young Catholics are leaving the church.

In addition to these challenges, fewer and fewer men are willing to enter the priesthood. This trend, which began long before the clergy sex abuse scandal, is raising questions around whether the church needs to reconsider its insistence on a male, celibate priesthood.

And, of course, there are many other concerns that the church might want to engage with – for example, whether the 98 percent of practicing Catholics who use “artificial means” of contraception – meaning anything other than the rhythm method – are sinners.”

The Irish Times
Catholic Church needs to empower the laity

WIll the Synod actually lead to significant change or will it just give Catholics an opportunity to express their discontent with or support for the current state of the Catholic Church? Currently, there appears to be a rift in the Body of Christ, the People of God, when it comes to certain teachings, the all-male clergy and hierarchy, and even the Pope.

Some of the laity and clergy want significant change while others desire the Church that existed prior to Vatican II. Many see the patriarchal, hierarchical, authoritarian structure of the Church as a problem and an obstacle for Catholicism to become relevant in a changing world while others perceive the traditional Church as the only bulwark against the rampant secularization and moral decline of the Western nations.

Yet others, including this author, claim that the Catholic Church abandoned the core teachings of Jesus and opted for power, fame, and fortune, which has catapulted the Catholic Church to the largest Christian denomination around the world. The Vatican City State, also known simply as the Vatican, became independent from Italy with the Lateran Treaty (1929), and it is a distinct territory under “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” of the Holy See.

The notion of abandonment of the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus is supported by the often opulent, grim, and horrific history of the Catholic Church from the time of the Roman Empire to the present.

No one, conservative or liberal, can set aside the participation of the Catholic Church in the crusades against the Jews and Muslims in the first one thousand years of the Common era, the inquisitions and murder of heretics in the middles ages, the 30 years of war which was one of the longest and most brutal wars in human history, with more than 8 million casualties resulting from military battles as well as from the famine and disease caused by the conflict. Add to this history the recent scandal of the sexual abuse of children by hundreds of clergy around the world and you have the perfect recipe for condemnation and abandonment by millions of Catholics.

Let us not forget the biblical and ecclesial support of slavery and the misogynist attitude that made women subject to males thus excluding women from clerical membership, and contributing to the marginalization of women from the political sphere, often resulting in discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes, and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women. Much of this is still occurring in the modern world especially in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.

All of the above also plays a part in the growing number of youth and young adults who have abandoned Catholicism and religion in general.

Will the Catholic Church’s Synod address all of the above and lead to significant changes? Will the Synod be the catalyst for structural change that will lead to an enthusiasm for Catholicism among the youth of the modern world? Will it restore religion in the West to its once-dominant role in society?

The answers might lie in the stated Mission of the Synod:

Empowering the People of God to bring their faith into the secular world by:
Listening to the real experiences of the people of God;
Promoting healing and restoration to people and systems;
Recognizing the equality of all members;
Respecting tradition and innovation in responding to the signs of the times;
Respecting the diversity and gifts of other traditions;
Promoting a deeper sacramental/ritual experience.

This author believes that the Mission Statement above can only bring about an awareness of those issues but not necessarily a major change in the Dogmatic teachings and Canonical structure of the Roman Catholic Church. These are extremely hard nuts to crack considering the fact that an all-male clergy will be the decision-makers in reference to any of the above issues or obstacles.

Instead, this author believes that a return to the humble but unwavering  Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus, the Christ will be the ultimate saving factor for Christianity’s and Catholicism’s survival beyond the 21st century. We must rekindle much of what Jesus said and taught and how he lived. He called for dramatic changes in his religion.

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”Mk 2: 22

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 19:23

“But when you are invited, go and sit in the last place, so that your host will come and tell you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in front of everyone at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then Jesus said to the man who had invited Him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”Lk 14:10-14

“He instructed them to take nothing but a staff for the journey–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” Mk 6:8

Matthew 23 also sets the stage for change.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Some say that you cannot have Jesus without ecclesiasticism but I say you can. One can ask if the Catholic Church has contributed to significant changes in the societies of humans based on the life and teachings of Jesus? History mostly says otherwise.

Jesus never intended to start another religion. He was a Jew steeped in Judaism. The Roman Empire took over “The Way” of Jesus and made it the religion of the Empire. The rest is history.

The Roman Empire or the Kingdom of God

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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