“Ask a Priest: Why Can’t the Church Be More Flexible?”

Q: How can a Church so old and proud continue to function and reach out to people in today’s world? It seems that the faith is losing more than it is gaining by not allowing certain beliefs or values into the faith. I am not saying to change faith as a whole. But be more accepting of everyone. Isn’t Jesus merciful to all? He loves us all, as I was told and taught in CCD. So why does the Church stay with doctrines that are over 2,000 years old? Some don’t seem relevant anymore. – J.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Church teaches what Jesus has revealed. Certainly his message of mercy is a key part of what he revealed.

He also came to call people to repentance. In fact, his first words in the Gospel according to Mark were “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (1:15). Note that word “repent.”

The Church recently had a Year of Mercy to remind people of Our Lord’s desire to wipe away their sins. A vital part of that part was an invitation to avail themselves of the sacrament of confession.

I’m not sure what you mean by “not allowing certain beliefs or values into the faith.” There can be flexibility in the way the Church presents the faith. Pope Francis has exhorted the clergy and the laity to find new ways of reaching out to people on the margins of the faith.

But there are certain core teachings the Church simply cannot or will not compromise — teachings about the sanctity of human life, for instance, or the indissolubility of marriage between a man and a woman.

The Church is here to present the fullness of the Gospel message. It might not always do so perfectly — it does have a fallible human dimension — but it will protect the deposit of faith. For this it relies on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

On a practical note, it’s unlikely that the Church would gain many members even if it could change its core teachings. Denominations that have altered key Christian teachings have been declining for decades.

Church historian James Hitchcock put it well when he wrote, “The Church loses credibility not because it insists on teaching ‘outmoded’ doctrines but because it lacks the courage to continue teaching what it knows to be true.”

If the Church is old and proud, it’s because it teaches what Jesus wants to tell the world.

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