Church likes to pretend it never changes, says historian

The Church likes to pretend that its current state is as it has always been, and it does this by reading history backwards, an historian writes.

Practising Catholic and Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills argues this in his latest book, titled: “The Future of the Church with Pope Francis”.

“Since one begins from a certitude that the Church was always what it has become, one simply has to extrapolate backward from what we have,” Mr Wills wrote.

The Church has survived because it has been able to change, whatever the ahistorical mind-set of its leadership, he continued.

He detailed changes in the Church’s attitude toward Latin, government authority, Judaism, natural law and the sacrament of penance.

Mr Wills believes that Pope Francis, too, understands that history runs from past to present, not the other way.

The author has high hopes for this Pope because Francis himself has changed.

An autocratic Jesuit superior has turned into wildly popular Pope who stresses mercy over judgment.

“Pope Francis, like Chesterton, does not see the Church as changeless, as permanent, as predictable, but as a thing of surprises,” Mr Wills wrote.

“And he has, in his pontificate so far, surprised many by things he has said or done.”

Francis may not change Church teaching himself, Mr Wills believes, but he can set in motion a chain of events that lead to change.

The historian cited Vatican II’s vindication of the ideas of silenced American theologian Fr John Courtney Murray as an example of positive change by the Church.

Vatican II likewise overcame the Church’s deplorable history of anti-Semitism with Nostra Aetate, Mr Wills wrote.

A renewed attitude to authority, Mr Wills hopes, will be based on the Word Incarnate, Christ living in the body of the Church, vivified by both Scripture and tradition.

In previous books, Mr Wills challenged the historicity of Church teaching on priests, sacraments and transubstantiation.

His latest book also charges that natural law has failed to produce a credible set of principles to guide modern sexual morality.


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