People, it has been said for quite some time, have been abandoning religion, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, in drones over the past few centuries. Once a beacon of hope, it morphed into something seen as wicked following the child sexual abuse scandal. Now, with the turbulent political scene, it can position itself as the new hope and appeal to people across the globe. Its unfaltering attitude, steeped in tradition, can be a huge disadvantage, but it can also constitute part of the appeal. But only if it plays its cards right.
Its teachings on moral issues from abortion to divorce pose a particular challenge to the evangelisation of people, and are also questioned by many seasoned Catholics. Here the Catholic Church, blatantly ignoring the shouts of the society that it finds itself in, stands by its teachings and defends it to the last.
A centuries years old organisation that stands by some fundamental truths is far more comforting than a culture that changes its mind with the popular opinion. The Church must take advantage of that if it stands any hope of broadening its appeal.
The argument that it is ‘difficult’ for people to be a member of the Catholic Church is not an argument at all. As the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, noted in his introduction to the collection of Church doctrine: ‘The Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands of you a new life.’ Is this not what people want? We thirst for a revolution, a rigorous change in our lifestyles that holds us to a standard. In an age of subjectivity, where truth is discarded as unnecessary, we aim for a truth. The Catholic Church provides one, and it makes a strong case for it too. And yet it constantly misses chances to capitalise on this, shying away from direct confrontation.
In ‘Faith of our Fathers’, the Catholic historian Eamon Duffy writes that faith is ‘a loving and grateful openness to the gift of being.’ Indeed, Christ said not that he is ‘a truth’ , but rather The Truth (Jhn 14:6). The Church provides hope in such a way, encouraging people to love their Being without sacrificing the indissoluble dignity of the individual. People are not seen as materialistic and disposable: they are treated with dignity and respect in a way that nothing else in modern society can even begin to mimic.
The issue, however, is that people see no strong defenders of the position. Whilst the New Atheists have the intellectual coherence of the linguistically gifted Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, Church leaders shy away from confrontation lest they become known as ‘preachy’ or ‘pious’. One man, however, could be a cure to this ailment: Cardinal Raymond Lee Burke.
Cardinal Burke, however, faces problems of his own. Previously Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the highest judicial authority in the Church) he is a coherent intellectual giant. When, in ‘Amoris Laetitia’, a certain passage was seen as proof that the divorced and remarried can receive Communion (this issue is dealt with here) he was unhesitant in his attempt to correct this. In doing so the supremely misguided Pope has tried to silence him, ignoring the Cardinal’s request for formal clarification. It simply isn’t working for him.
Despite being shuffled around from position to position by Pope Francis, the Cardinal is demonstrating no sign of stopping. Catholics love him and, instead of keeping him shackled to the wall, the Pope should provide the key and let him have full rein. His dedication encapsulates everything that should draw people to the Church: a love of truth, a firm belief in certain moral and theological standards, and a rigorous take on how one should lead their lives. As the political scene develops at a breakneck speed, stability and hope are needed. Where else provides these aspects of life?
On a recent trip to Rome, I stepped into the Church of St Louis of the French, just off Piazza Navona; a beautiful and peaceful building. Sitting before a memorial to Fr Hamel, murdered by Islamic terrorists last year, I lit a candle and prayed to his memory. Silently, afterwards, I left. Outside society continued its wild dance through the ages, the traffic of vehicles and people alike never stopping. The contrast to the cool interior of the church I had just emerged from was a perfect metaphor.
The world is changing. The Catholic Church is not. For that we, even those who are not a member, can be thankful.