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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Are the Teachings of the Catholic Faith Secure?


Sorry Father Joe, this does not really answer the situation on what the Pope is quoted as saying. The catechism has been changed before and can be again. What assurance is there that our Catholic Faith is secure like it once was?  Thank you for your answer, Marcel.


The universal catechism came out under Pope John Paul II.  The only changes or tweaks have been in regard to capital punishment.  There are a number of factors at work.  First, notice that this is not a creedal matter but one of social teaching.  Certain social teachings are fluid because the Church must respond to changing societal and cultural traditions.  For instance, kings and queens have largely disappeared.  We have seen the emergence of democracies, communist dictatorships and Islamic theocracies.  At least in the more developed world, it is argued that correctional procedures no longer require the death sentence.  The American bishops also worry that justice may not be fairly administered, given that money and ethnicity have an undue influence.  I suspect the late Pope John Paul frowned on the death penalty because it fostered a culture of death where the innocent and the unborn were also more likely to suffer.  He also endured the persecution of Communism in Poland where even the political dissenter’s life was endangered by authorities.  The movement we have seen is this:  that the state has the right to take human life in certain circumstances to the less nuanced view of Pope Francis that capital punishment is universally wrong.  Second, I would prefer words like “evolution” or “maturation” or “development” over change. This movement is not capricious. As with the question of slavery, tolerated in biblical times and in much of Church history, the popes came to discern that modern slavery reflected deep-seated prejudices where human life and dignity were maligned.  The seed for this evolution was in the New Testament appreciation that in Christ there is neither free nor slave, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile— we are created with unalienable natural rights and our humanity is raised even higher by grace.  No man or woman can be reduced to property just as no unborn child should be reduced to a disposable commodity.  Pope Francis is highlighting the perpetual truth that all life belongs to God.  A people that allow the murder of their innocent children have no moral ground to take the lives of those deemed guilty of crimes.  While the latter is currently the cause of much discussion; the abolition of slavery finds no debate and is widely acknowledged as a case where we perceive the organic development of dogma.  Revelation is a done deal.  The faith grows with reflection upon the sources of revelation— our understanding intensifies.  We may also apply old and trusted principles to new questions, like the morality of having or using nuclear weapons or cloning or IVF or whatever. 

The focus of your previous question was quite narrow and targeted the last things.  You wrote:  “Sorry Fr. Joe, I sent you unfinished comment on His Holiness Pope Francis. I have Parkinsons and it makes it difficult to type. I am concerned with recent reports that the Pope stated that there is no heaven, hell, or purgatory.  Even Limbo after 800 years does not exist! Is there any truth to these reports or are they misquotes and misunderstandings. As a devout Catholic I am deeply concerned that the gates of hell may prevail against Holy Mother Church. Our Lady of Fatima is proof that there is a heaven and a hell and this been an approved apparition for over 100 years. Thank you!”

My response remains the same:  “There has been no change to the catechism so there must be a misunderstanding.”  As it turns out, such was the case.  Indeed, the Pope speaks a great deal about the devil and hell.  As for limbo, it is only omitted from the universal catechism because it was taught as a credible theological opinion from the scholastic period.  We are hopeful about the little children but I cannot say for sure whether there is a limbo of the innocents or not.  Pope Francis has been quite stern to priests who would deny the baptism of babies, even when the parents have been unfaithful and are unmarried.  This seems reflective of the older tradition that we should not delay baptism so as to insure the place of our children in the kingdom.

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