The true meaning of the teaching authority of the pope is that he is the advocate of Christian memory. He does not impose something from the outside but develops and defends Christian memory.
Values in a Time of Upheaval, 95
Reflection – In a recent Republican presidential debate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, was lectured by one of the moderators, also Catholic, on how holding the position that homosexual intercourse is intrinsically immoral was ‘bordering on bigotry’. When Santorum defended his position as being nothing else than the abiding moral teaching of the Catholic Church, the moderator (whose name I’ve forgotten and refuse to look up!) brushed that aside with a peremptory, “The world has changed.”This is what Ratzinger is getting at here in his explanation of the role of the pope, an explanation that is part of a longer analysis of the relationship of truth, freedom, morality, and authority. I’ll be quoting bits and pieces of it here and there on the blog.
Our sensibilities about what is or is not moral are in constant flux, aren’t they? A few decades ago, drinking and driving was not considered such a big deal; now it is rightly abhorred. Just yesterday I went grocery shopping and was guilt stricken when I realized I had forgotten to bring any plastic bags with me: environment killer, j’accuse (or is that je m’accuse)! I wouldn’t have given it a thought ten years ago.
And obviously some of this changing sensibility is good, when it is based on new facts coming to light or becoming more obvious to everyone: e.g. drinking and driving is criminally dangerous. But when it is not that, when no new facts have come to light about a matter, when there is simply a change based on how we feel about something – well, that needs to be examined, doesn’t it?
What new facts have come to light about human sexuality to provide a rational basis for changing our moral understandings about it? And no, the Kinsey Report et al does not constitute new facts (or any kind of facts at all, actually – it’s been thoroughly debunked in every particular).
But fashion is a strong force, and wide-spread cultural shift is even stronger. It is almost universally assumed today that contraception is simply necessary. It is impossible today to have more than a few children, which comes as a great surprise to my friends with double-digit sized families. It is impossible today for teenagers to refrain from sexual activity, which comes as a great surprise to the millions of them who do just that, actually.
And apart from the controversial hot-button sexual issues, more and more today it is assumed that lying is OK and even necessary in some or even many circumstances, that stealing is OK as long as it’s from rich people or the government, that shady business practices are all right as long as ‘no one’ is hurt, whatever that means. And forget about the first three commandments of the Decalogue. OMG!
Against such shifts and swings in fashionable moral ‘thought’, if that’s not too strong a word for it, stands… well, the Pope, mostly. He stands for the memory of humanity, reminding us that neither God nor human nature has changed in the last forty years. Man and woman are still man and woman; human sexual love is still created as a reflection of the divine covenantal love from which all life and fruitfulness springs. A kiss is still a kiss, so to speak. And the same unchanging truths hold for matters of truth and integrity, worship and piety.
Nothing has changed; nothing of these essential fundamental matters of our humanity and how it is ordered to God ever will change. The Catholic Church cannot and will not change its moral teachings, because She remembers, and the voice of her memory is currently a little old man in Rome named Benedict XVI, who is the servant of the truth, not its author or its editor.