CatholicNews’ recent article on the US Leadership Conference of Women Religious or LCWR (CN, Aug 12) was potentially misleading for many reasons, not least its title, Being Catholic and Having a Questioning Mind.
The LCWR have long espoused doctrines contrary to Catholic teaching and insisted that the Church must change. But despite the rapid changes in secular (especially Western) society, the Church has remained clear and consistent on issues like abortion, divorce and sexual ethics.
Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II have done much to reiterate Catholic teaching on these issues. For only the Church has the God-given authority to determine matters of faith and morals. And it is only by submitting to this magisterium do we understand how divine revelation works in perfect harmony with natural law and reason; there is never any contradiction.
Can one be truly Catholic and have a questioning mind? To be Catholic is to accept all the Church teaches to be true, but it does not mean we blindly submit to authority.
Blessed John Paul II affirmed in Fides et Ratio that “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”. So reason is not superfluous to the faith; in fact, it is essential. But reason must always be oriented to the truth.
The measure of how well we have used our reason is whether it has helped us better understand Catholic teaching. The aim of theology, as the eminent Cardinal Avery Dulles put it, is to “show why the Church is teaching what she is”, to understand the truths God has revealed and help us live them out better – not to change them.
Let us examine the LCWR’s positions. Sr Pat Farrell says “the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in and new questions, new realities as they arise”.
Archbishop Gerhard Muller, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, replies that “because faith and reason belong together, it is obviously not incompatible to be Catholic and to have a questioning mind – but we cannot have negotiations about revealed truth”.
The LCWR considers Catholic doctrines mere man-made “policies” subject to change, but this is far from correct. While the issues of each generation differ and the Church must find new, effective ways to communicate her teachings, the truths themselves never change.
Sr Farrell also wants a “safe and respectful environment where Church leaders, together with rank-and-file Catholics, can raise questions openly and search for truth freely with very complex and swiftly changing issues”. Her words suggest an inability to accept the consistency of Catholic teaching in a rapidly-changing world. These are confusing times and Catholics often find their questions about the faith inadequately addressed. Those in pastoral roles – clergy, Religious and laity alike – must guide the faithful to the light of the truth, and never distort the truth to sound more appealing.
Since God has generously given us the gift of reason, let us use it to better appreciate the truths of our Catholic faith, so that we can live holy and righteous lives and become more like Christ.
Only in this way will we recover the true meaning of freedom – the ability to do what is right, and not simply to do as we like. As Christ Jesus taught us, “If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn 8:31-32).
Michael Cyssel Wee