Some years ago, a UK based telecoms provider published a marketing campaign on national television; its theme: 'keeping in touch'. The commercial featured an attentive Jewish grandmother consoling her grandson on the publication of his less than illustrious exam results (i.e. his leaving certificate). The theme was familiar enough. A parent or family member seeking to eke out words of encouragement to counter an otherwise disappointing event. Finally, lighting upon the fact that her grandson had received a pass mark in "sociology" she declared him "a genius". Her reason: he had achieved an “ology”. It is in human nature to seek to tease from difficult events some positive message of encouragement. We encounter this most especially on those occasions when our loved ones have sought “success”; only to "miss the mark".
Following the Amazon Synod there have been numerous reports proclaiming various forms of “success” or “progress”. Speculation around the ordination of married men, the removal of mandatory celibacy and/or the admission of women to the clerical state, have each featured in media articles. This is to be expected. After all, we live in an age in which the ejection of an “idol” from a space dedicated for sacred use, offends more sensibilities than the introduction of the same items to a sanctuary. We can be certain that in time past, greater agitation would have been shown on account of the fact that a profane item (let alone an idol) had been placed within the precincts of a building designated for sacred use. This, it is said, symbolises a transformation in social attitudes of a positive kind. "Progression", "inclusivity" and "universality" are but a few examples of the explanations advanced for the acceptance of such behaviours. There is, of course, much to be said for the manifestation of the Church’s mission in a manner which -provided it does not offend doctrine-is accommodating to matters of local ethnicity. But as other social commentators might observe, such accommodation is frequently presented under the guise of "political correctness"; a correctness which both obscures all contrary views and admits of no other contestants. It is a form of political correctness which-contrary to its liberal assertion-is itself fundamentally intolerant. It has the effect, in some instances, of giving priority to matters of emotion, popularity and social convenience. Issues of doctrine, orthodoxy, revelation and Truth are considered mere impedimenti and, on that account alone, rarely receive any form of mention. So, what’s the big deal?
Many will have read with interest the proposal of Pope Francis concerning “sin”. That is, to formally recognise as sins, offences against ecology. Superficially, the proposal might be considered a recognition of man's responsibility to the created world entrusted to him. But is that all?
The Catechism of the Church (CCC) has hitherto been taken as a reliable indicator of its teachings. It speaks specifically of creation as being the work of God, of the beauty of creation, and the fact that creation is in fact entrusted to man. (CCC 299).As to the definition of sin, it provides:
"Sin is an offence against reason, truth and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods…”
"Sin is an offence against God…"
This gives rise to something of a conundrum. Neither the environment, nor nature in general, can be considered deities. Nor can either be considered as enjoying any discrete personality of its own. Query, therefore, how it is possible to sin ‘against’ either. Yet, without mention of God, how can such conduct be classified as a ‘sin’? The words of the psalmist: “Against you alone have I sinned…” might suggest that all offences in the nature of sin are, and remain, offences against God himself. Is this a Jesuitical distinction? Or, is the Pope simply affirming a form of pantheism? Is he, like the benign grandmother referred to in the commercial, simply concerned that we should all have access to at least one ‘ology’?
It may be thought conservative, but it might be thought that the only ‘ology’ with which Pope Francis should concern himself is the theology which forms the teaching of the Church. His doing so might provide less scope for his interviewers to attribute to him statements which are fundamentally contrary to the same teachings. Whether one has in mind the hypostatic union, or, the corporal resurrection of Christ from the dead, these irreducible tenets of the faith demand precedence over any and all forms of political expediency. Neither diversity nor ethnic variation can be used as a ruse by which to dilute the teachings upon which the Church was founded or the transmission of the faith which is and remains her mission. To paraphrase my late maternal grandmother: anything less would be “kidology”. Assuming the Catechism remains an authentic statement of the Church’s teaching, it would appear that she was right. Integrity and authenticity demand that we ask ourselves whether we are witnessing the use of authority in the Church as a means to increase popularity rather than serving the ends of Truth. No matter how sincere the ambition, the ideologies of the day cannot be used to define the character of the Church nor dilute her mission and purpose. We would do well to remember the plea of the psalmist:
“Against you, you alone have I sinned; what is evil in your sight, I have done…”
Conduct which misuses the earth and the resources with which we have been entrusted is indeed harmful. It damages our environment and undermines the social opportunities to which others may have access. To that extent, it may indeed contribute to a loss of dignity and the deprivation of justice. These are undoubtedly evils which evidence man’s inhumanity to man. However, the ‘sin’ thereby committed is one against the mystery and wonder of the gift of life in which God wills us to share. It is not possible to separate these realities. We must pray that those who lead the Church do not attempt any further separation for the sake of any ‘ology’ which enjoys the quality of appeasement. It is only by this means that the Church can fulfil its duty to ‘keep in touch’ with its founder and remain true to its purpose and mystical character.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom – pray for us