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“Ask a Priest: Aren’t Some Catholic Doctrines Outdated?”
Q: How do you reconcile today’s world with the current Catholic doctrine? The Catholic Church is quite conservative; not only this, but some of its doctrines seem irrelevant and outdated. It would be wrong to expect the Church to change its stance on particular issues because it is offensive to some or because most do not follow. The Catholic Church claims to have the fullness of the Gospel. How would I know if this is true? I have talked to a few Christian denominations, and plenty do not have a good view of the Catholic Church. Jehovah Witnesses claim to have the truth, as do other denominations. There are many interpretations about who Jesus was, is, and how he would respond today’s issues. Why is the Catholic Church concerned with how people use their sexuality, which is a very private affair? -L.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You mention that the Catholic Church claims to have the fullness of the Gospel. That is a good place to begin. That would mean that the Gospel — coming from Christ, who is God — doesn’t change. Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to the world, and what he taught is meant for all peoples in all times.
So it would make sense that any church that claims to have the fullness of the Gospel wouldn’t change that Gospel, correct? And what did Jesus say about matters of, say, sexuality? He told the woman caught in adultery, “Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11). He also warned that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
So if Jesus is concerned about how people use their sexuality, there must be a serious reason. It isn’t just a “very private affair.”
Sins against the flesh are offenses against God because they are misuses of the gift of sex that the Almighty gives us. Sex is sacred because it enables spouses to express intimate union as well as partake in procreation, where couples join God in raising up new human life. That is why sex is such a sacred power.
As to belief in the Church as such, well, no one can prove the veracity of Catholicism. That is why faith is needed. But let’s say this: God made faith as well as reason. I invite you to go deep into any religion you want. You will likely find that no other religion is as deep and broad as Catholicism. Moreover, there is nothing unreasonable about it; it might go beyond reason occasionally, but it doesn’t go against reason.
Whatever the Church teaches can be linked to Scripture or Tradition, which is the oral transmission of everything that wasn’t written explicitly in the Bible. (An example of Tradition is the list, or canon, of books in the Bible; where did that list come from? It came from Tradition.)
True, there are many interpretations of who Jesus is and what he would say today. That is why he sent the Holy Spirit to guide his Church, the Catholic Church. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:12-13). We believe the Holy Spirit guides the magisterium, the teaching authority, of the Church in order to keep us from false doctrines. That is why you can find continuity in what the Church teaches from the very beginning.
Many other religions or denominations have changed their teachings over the centuries — for instance, allowing contraception and women priests. If they can change their teachings on such fundamental issues, isn’t that a sign that they might be trying to win favor with the world rather than proclaim what Christianity held from the very start?