Archbishop Dolan provides a clear explanation of the nature of church doctrine.

One would think that leaders in “the Vatican” occasionally meet to decide what “rules” they should issue or reinforce today, or what changes in procedure they should introduce to guarantee that the Church is more relevant.

While this seems to be the presumption of most people who attempt to report on the Church, it is, indeed, a presumption that is invalid.

“The Vatican” is a plot of ground the size of an eighteen-hole golf course on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome.  It happens also to be the home of the successor to the man buried on this acreage under the splendid basilica which bears his name, St. Peter’s.

These 108 acres, “the Vatican” have absolutely no authority at all to alter the teaching of the Church.  Its sacred duty, rather, is to preserve and hand on the deposit of faith we have received from revelation, from the Bible, from Jesus, from His apostles.

So, to imply that the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, and his closest aides regularly meet as some political entity to read the latest poll and “change Church policy,” like that of ordaining only men, is silly.

Call it whatever you went — “the Vatican,” “Rome,” “the Pope,” “the Holy See,” “the Magisterium” — whatever you call it, it does not “make up,” “change,” or “issue” new doctrines.  It inherits them, receives them, “handed on” (from the Latin word tradiitio,) by Tradition.

Yes, it may rethink how the truth entrusted to it might be better explained, or more credibly presented, or expressed in a more contemporary way.

Yes, it might become concerned when it’s clear that a good chunk of people no longer follow a particular teaching or moral precept.

But it does not then call a meeting and vote whether or not to change the teaching.

At times it – “the Vatican,” “Rome,” “the Pope,” “the Holy See,” “the Magisterium” — might even wish it could change certain teachings.  For instance, I would wager most bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral leaders, and maybe even the Holy Father himself has, at one time or another wished the Church could alter the teaching of Jesus that marriage is forever, and that one cannot break that sacred bond asunder.

But it can’t, because it didn’t make up the teaching to begin with.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with the point and implied spirit of the article by Archbishop Dolan about the traditions and nature of the church and his article seems surprisingly level headed!
    The only thing I would point out is that History sometimes gets in the way of interpretations. For example: what any pontiff pope or Bishop may suggest may at a latter date be changed, dropped or forgotten by another. Hence whilst Dolan does properly point out that the Church i.e. its Pope, Bishops etc may wish to change some teachings and he sites Divorce as his example it is not a theological dogma and therefore may be changed in theory whilst the how’s or whys obviously remain contested. For example celibacy is a medieval acceptance and open to interpretations especially in the new arrival of an Anglican ordinances.
    I am not suggesting that the Church is about to change or will change or should change rather that humans are limited by historical limitations and we do not perceive the universal history of the Church in any moment of time. The Church Universal allows for interpretations and even for local error (not in defined dogma but in understanding of the will of God etc in any one moment in time) hence in history the Church has both allowed and even instigated gross errors that would have destroyed it had not its divine master allowed for human weakness and frailty, forgiven it and washed it clean each time in his own blood.
    The church does interpret tradition and it does on occasion allow for future changes that at its present understanding wherever or whenever it may be in time; seem unlikely.
    The “Vatican” is a generic term given not simply to the site of land of a sovereign state within Rome but to the will of its Bishop the Pope and his state offices. It is also implied as the temporal human leadership of the visible Roman Catholic Church. It is not properly speaking a political regime although of course its political whack far exceeds its size. Its authority is moral not just for Catholics but for all peoples of good will that recognize its truths.
    Finally of course, it can be changed by the action and revelation of God and his Holy Spirit. All members can change the Church by simply praying and asking Christ Jesus to be more in their lives than before. Foolish men like archbishop Marcinkus, before his spectacular fall pronounced that the Church was not run on Hail Marys which showed his absurd lack of faith and cost him his earthly legitimacy. The Church is dependent upon prayer and that is foremost in the Vatican armourary in the world.
    In his generally well written article Archbishop Dolan has tried to point out that there is no scheming political hierarchy within the Vatican nor that there is any plot to create political manipulation as such. The only thing he has failed to perceive is that the Catholic Church, especially a modern Catholic Church supported by council and the last few pontiffs has started to stress the importance of the laity par se. This does not mean it has lost its way rather that as it grows so it wishes to equate more people with Christ and its leadership becomes one of service and not rule.

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