The Catholic Church Can’t Change

February 15, 2013 - 12:22 PM

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the Catholic Church is not going to change its teaching on any of the fun stuff (contraception, female “ordination,” homosexuality, abortion, etc.) with the next pope.

Nor will it ever.

When news of the pope’s retirement broke, Nicholas Kristof pondered on Twitter: “At some point, the church will accept contraception and female and non-celibate priests. Could it be in the next papacy?” Countless groups issued press releases clamoring for a “progressive” pope.

The Rainbow Sash Movement called for the next pope to stop emphasizing “purity.” The Women’s Ordination Conference announced it would hold vigils and raise pink smoke to raise awareness of the need for “female priests.” I can’t wait to see what Maureen Dowd will say.

So while most Catholics worldwide heard the news of the pope stepping down and gave him a giant, global air-hug, a few dissenting groups used the news to get attention by banging their pans and loudly rejecting church teaching and disrespecting the head of their faith. It was unkind.

Mr. Kristof and friends are wringing their hands about what we call “irreformable, infallible moral teachings of the ordinary magisterium.”

He might want to look that up.

In layman’s terms: What the church’s critics, especially those now giddily wondering if Pope Benedict’s successor will shake things up, just don’t seem to understand is that church teachings on these issues are unchangeable.

Even if we entertain the human possibility of a rogue pope, the reality is such a thing is currently sociologically impossible. About half of the current College of Cardinals (the men who will select the next pope) were appointed by Blessed Pope John Paul II. The other half were put there by Pope Benedict XVI. As you can imagine, they are all orthodox, or faithful to church teaching. On everything.

While most editorial pages have spent the last eight years harping on Catholic social teaching and running hit pieces on bishops and the pope, Benedict has been filling the ranks with shepherds who will continue the church’s 2,000-plus year tradition of holding firm on the most important social issues.

And not only will the church remain orthodox with Pope Benedict’s successor, it should.

Our call to live counter-culturally is as old as the church itself. We believe in a God who lived among us, died for us, and showed us the way to live lives of courage and conviction – whatever our culture. Catholics are called, yes, to engage with the society around them, but not to adapt ourselves to the popular sentiments of our time.

Instead, Catholics are called to live in radical service to our God. This includes loving our neighbor as ourselves. This also includes letting go of pleasure as the path to happiness (spoiler: it’s not). There’s nothing modern – or moderate – about that.

And besides, a quick scan of the world shows: suffering, suffering, and more suffering. Men using women for sex and leaving them to hold the bag. Children without fathers. Mothers killing their babies. The definition of marriage sold to the highest, or most aggressive, bidder.

Many are already rushing to exclaim, “Maybe we will get a pope who will respect women’s rights!” We have a pope who respects women’s rights. A woman’s right to be born, despite a world that values women less than men. A woman’s right to preserve fertility equality with men as a part of the sexual experience. A woman’s right to be respected for the socially cheapened roles of mother and wife. Thankfully, the next pope will defend these women’s rights as well.

The Catholic Church has an Old Man River thing going on. She just keeps rolling, she keeps on rolling along. You can stand on the shores. Or jump in. It’s your choice. But she’s not changing course. Thank God.