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For a Lady Pope

Is the Church able to adapt to the ideas of its time?

Vatican observers are scrutinising the ways in which Pope Francis will evolve the pastoral of the Church and its doctrine, since one does not go without the other. Pastoral and doctrine are in fact very closely related. Vatican observers are today (November 2014), seeing that once more it boils down to a fight between the conservatives and the progressives. The division between the two groups was clearly seen at the Family Synod, which took place in October 2014.

When looking at the history of the Church over the past two centuries, everyone is entitled to ask him or herself whether or not the Church can cope with the changes in attitudes and whether or not it can at least go some way to changing or developing its doctrine.

 Let's take a brief look back

Let's take a brief look back at the attitude of the Holy See regarding the evolution of ideas. We only need go back to the modernist crisis that occurred as a result of the profound upheavals that swept across Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What were then the shocking, big ideas that spanned two centuries of history and put Europe at least into turmoil? The main ones were the freedom of the press, the freedom of conscience, the struggle against slavery, the fight for democracy, the separation of the Church from the State, the emancipation of women ... Many of these ideas had already been launched during the famous Age of Enlightenment (eighteenth century).

The position of Rome on these different themes


Lets examine the position of Rome on these different themes. In other words, were the Popes precursors of these ideas or did they in fact obstruct their development?

Freedom of the press, for example, was harshly condemned by Gregory XVI in 1832 (Mirari Vos): “liberty of the press, that most fatal liberty, an execrable liberty, which can never inspire enough horror and which some daring men with so much noise and insistence ask to be expanded everywhere." Which Pope today would condone such sentiments?

As for freedom of conscience, Pius IX in 1864 (Syllabus), would not admit that "freedom of conscience and religion may be a law peculiar to each man." In the Syllabus, Pius IX explicitly condemned rationalism, freedom of opinion, freedom of religion and the separation of the Church and State.

In 1866, Pius IX also signed an instruction of the Holy Office justifying slavery: "Slavery itself, in its essential nature is not at all contrary to natural and divine law, and there may be several good reasons for slavery, and these reasons come from approved theologians ... It is not contrary to natural and divine law that a slave be sold, bought, exchanged or given." Pie IX’s opinions are contrary to those of many of his predecessors.


Leo XIII corrected this ham-fisted mistake. The Church's opposition to slavery and human trafficking was affirmed on May 5, 1888, by Leo XIII in his encyclical In Plurimis, and on 20 November 1890, in Catholicae Ecclesiae: encyclicals "on the abolition of slavery."

One hundred years earlier, in 1775, a year before the US Declaration of Independence, the Quakers had created the first Anti-Slavery Society of North America.

Even Pope Leo XIII, who is quite rightly seen as being the founder of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Rerum Novarum in 1891), refused, in his Encyclical Diuturnum in 1880, the democratic system as it is today, that is to say, a political system in which the people exercise sovereignty. He wrote, "The doctrines on political power invented by late writers have already produced great ills amongst men, and it is to be feared that they will cause the very greatest disasters to posterity. For an unwillingness to attribute the right of ruling to God, as its Author, is not less than a willingness to blot out the greatest splendor of political power and to destroy its force. And they who say that this power depends on the will of the people err in opinion first of all; then they place authority on too weak and unstable a foundation.”

Would a Pope today publish such things?

On the separation of the Church from the State, Pope Pius X wrote in 1906 (our Vehementer):

"That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error." This speech is barely a hundred years old.

Listen to the rest: "The Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of people: the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end.”

“The one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.” 

Medieval point of view

Unfortunately, many bishops today still share this very medieval point of view. 

When we look at such attitudes however, it reminds us of just how systematically backward the Church has been when it comes to crucial matters such as freedom of press, freedom of conscience, democracy....


The Second Vatican Council


Of course, you say, it's easy to go back in time to a century or two ago, we have seen since then how, in the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council put the record straight and renounced the Church’s defensive attitude. Indeed, Vatican II corrected many things, but it has taken time for the Church to accept these changes in civil society.

It hasn’t been easy for the Church to adapt – there has been much pain and gnashing of teeth. The changes have taken place but with deplorable and reprehensible sluggishness. In fact, the Church has somehow managed to fall into line without having to actually admit that the contents of several encyclicals were made up of serious, if not wrongful, mistakes.

It is true that some declarations of repentance and regret have been expressed over the past few decades, such as those concerning the Jews and the Galileo affair. In general, however, the Church does not refer to the past and so it avoids having to admit that it was recently seriously opposed to the very ideas it now accepts.

Taking all this into consideration, there is nothing whatsoever to prevent the Church, either today or tomorrow, from reviewing its current moral and family doctrines, just as it has fundamentally revised its doctrines in both social and political fields.

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