Friday, July 25, 2014

Imagine There Is No Infallibility

Try this thought experiment. First off, imagine there is no infallibility. The Church, in our little experiment, is free to change her teachings, to adapt to the times.

Is there any doubt that all the stress and confusion that has characterized the last fifty years would vanish instantly? The thought experiment requires you to really accept, for the purposes of the experiment that infallibility truly doesn't exist, and never did. The Church would have just "evolved," or "changed with the times," like any other institution. If there were no infallibility to muck things up, things would be so simple.

  • everyone, or nearly everyone, goes to heaven
  • contraception is a modern reality, no problem changing it
  • the Real Presence: fine for people in the Middle Ages, but now? Seriously?
  • reunion with Orthodox: we're ready (what's the hold up with them?)
  • ecumenism is such a nice idea, let's open communion to everyone!
  • do we really want to be the last denomination to deny women a clerical role?

Of course these are extreme examples, but if the Church did not have a 2000 year-old albatross of infallible teaching around her neck, there would be no principled reason not to change.

Vatican II could (and would) be forthrightly explained for what it was: a sweeping rejection of the past. No fancy footwork, no "hermeneutics." One day the Church was one thing; the next it was something else. No problem. We turned the priest around because the Mass is no longer a sacrifice, but a meal. How could you be so dense not to see something so obvious?

Now turn the thought experiment off and hear the 2000 year-old albatross squawking in your ear.

The fact is, we are locked into teachings. The other fact is, those teachings have changed since Vatican II. Hence the cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person must believe two contradictory things. The Church issued infallible teachings. Those infallible teachings have changed. It causes psychological stress. So much so, that people will believe anything, rather than abandon one or the other of the facts.

Who does not have cognitive dissonance?

  • liberal dissidents -- they never believed the Church was bound to her past teachings anyway
  • conservative dissidents -- they've split from Rome (at least in spirit) and are doing their own thing the way it always was
  • clueless Catholics -- they don't know the difference

The people who are affected by cognitive dissonance are intelligent, well-educated Catholics who recognize the discontinuity and dare not say anything.

In October, it is possible that Bishops may decide divorced and remarried Catholics get a pass, and may have communion. If that happens, they will surely not say, "the Church has said in the past that divorced Catholics could not remarry, but we are changing that rule." The 2000-year-old albatross wouldn't stand for it. Some explanation would smooth things over without touching the doctrine. Yes, that remains the doctrine, but as a pastoral solution, mercy must trump doctrine and we must listen to the heart. 

Meanwhile, more cognitive dissonance would be piled onto the faithful that still believe in Rome yesterday, today and tomorrow. They would be asked to process it as best they may.

And by tacit agreement, no one will say the obvious out loud:

The Church cannot change her teachings. The Church has changed her teachings.

The Bear has no answer. Only:

How long, O Lord? How long?


  1. Coincidentally, Rorate published this today on the very same topic: The Reconciler: Ending the Great Equivocation on Vatican II, by Roberto de Mattei.

    Like many translations, it limps a little due to the difficulty of conveying Italian idioms into English, but it builds quite powerfully and is well worth the read. Excerpt:

    The weight of the hermeneutic of Benedict XVI which laid heavily on the debate during his pontificate, has unexpectedly become lighter after his abdication. After renouncing the papacy, Benedict’s Council made an exit from history and the Council of his adversary, Cardinal Kasper remained in history: the Council is being implemented by pastoral praxis and, after fifty years of pastoral praxis, announces the coming liquidation of Catholic morality.

    or, even more apropos:

    Radaelli ... is an attentive observer of the process of “de-dogmatization” which Vatican II started off and which seems to have reached its apex with Pope Francis’ magisterium. Over the last 50 years, the mutation of the Church’s language has had an effect in its contents, [thus] altering the deposit of the doctrine itself.

    I get the distinct feeling that matters are coming to a head.

  2. G.K. Chesterton said: Catholic Church “is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
    It doesn't feel that way lately.


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