The Catholic Church is at a crossroads. After years of condemning same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion, the leader of the Church has changed the argument. In September, the newly elected Pope Francis took a stance that was a bit different than the one put forth by his predecessors. Instead of taking a negative view on these important moral issues, Pope Francis instead chose to separate moral beliefs like those regarding social issues from dogmatic beliefs, those beliefs and teachings put forth by the Bible.
In an interview with a number of Jesuit publications Pope Francis said, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
This statement has been interpreted a number of different ways, but many believe Pope Francis means that the Catholic Church must not allow some social issues — such as abortion, gay rights and birth control — to become the primary issue of the Church. The Pope’s comments are a call to separate dogmatic teachings from the moral issues facing the modern world.
The PHOENIX Editorial Board believes that while these remarks are a step in the right direction, he and the Church must now take action to support these comments.
Currently in the United States there are 14 states plus Washington, D.C. that allow same-sex marriage and four that allow domestic partnerships or civil unions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
One of those 14 states used to only allow civil unions, but a recent landmark decision has changed the law and allowed the state to grant same-sex marriages.
That one state is New Jersey. It has recognized civil unions since 2007, but in a decision passed on Sept. 27, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ordered that, beginning on Oct. 21, the state of New Jersey begin recognizing same-sex marriages. This ruling has already been appealed by Gov. Chris Christie and the State, but that appeal was denied.
What does this have to do with the Pope’s comments? One of the most steadfast opponents of same-sex marriages has always been the Catholic Church. It has fought against the legalization of same-sex marriage in every one of those 14 states.
The Pope’s remarks change that. In the aforementioned interview Pope Francis also said, “We have to find a new balance otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
With this statement Pope Francis is urging the Church and its people to find a new way to reconcile what they have been taught with what is going on in the modern world. The Bible was written nearly 3500 years ago and many of the moral teachings that applied then do not and cannot apply now.
According to a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 68 percent of American Catholics approve of the Pope’s new approach to modern moral issues and the Church’s role. That number shows that as an institution, the Catholic Church is progressing and many believe that the moral teachings that once applied can no longer apply in our ever changing world.
Closer to home, on Loyola’s campus, the Jesuit values of the school have been put to the test with the recent issue involving the civil union of Christine Irvine and her partner, Mary. Irvine, a Loyola student, and Mary had hoped to hold their civil union service on Loyola’s campus. While civil unions are legally recognized by the state of Illinois, Irvine was told that her ceremony would not be allowed. Lisa Reiter, Loyola’s Director of Campus Ministry, told a PHOENIX reporter three weeks ago that Loyola was just upholding its Catholic values by not allowing Irvine and her fiancee to hold their civil union ceremony on campus.
“I think this is one of those policies where administrators at the university are really trying to use Catholic teaching to inform a decision, to help [the school] be faithful in its identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution,” Reiter told PHOENIX reporter Jordan Berger.
The Pope is not only a Catholic, but he is also a Jesuit. Loyola is also a Jesuit university. If the Pope can choose to make this step forward, then why can’t Loyola?
The PHOENIX Editorial Board believes that it is time for the Pope and the Catholic Church to turn words into actions. Making such bold statements is a good first step but it cannot be the only step. With these statements the Pope has set himself up to be a pioneer in liberal Catholicism, someone who separates dogmatic teaching from modern moral issues.
If he is going to be bold enough to make these statements then he must be bold enough to back them up with actions and take steps toward changing the views of the modern Catholic Church.
Instead of focusing on condemning moral issues like same-sex marriage the Church should be focused on finding a way to support the Pope’s words with actions. Pope Francis’ statements could be a huge step forward for a Church that has been struggling to find its place in a modern world if they choose to take action.
In a recent survey conducted jointly by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, it was found that only 64 percent of millennials (a person who reached young adulthood around the year 2000) who were raised Catholic still consider themselves to be a practicing Catholic. 25 percent of millennials who were raised Catholic now consider themselves to be religiously unaffiliated. The Church has lost a quarter of this generation, the generation that is supposed to be the future of the Catholic Church. The PHOENIX Editorial Board believes that this loss is indicative of the fact that the Church’s outdated principles clash with the beliefs and opinions of the modern world.
Words alone are not powerful enough to create change and if the Pope hopes to create change he must use the momentum gained from making these statements to take action in the Catholic Church.