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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Synod: Immutable Doctrine vs. Pastoral Care



Catholic doctrine is carried out to the faithful through pastoral care by our bishops and priests.  Pastoral care has been increasingly challenged more than ever in the past several decades as social acceptance of homosexuality, contraception, divorce, remarriage, couples living together before marriage, and other issues grows.  Complicating matters is the fact of sexual abuse carried out by priests, thus breaking the trust of the faithful, many of whom have left the Church in disgust, and others who remain Catholic in name only. These same will attend mass for family milestones or major holidays like Christmas and Easter, but find no reason to participate in regular attendance. The warning, "It's a mortal sin to miss mass," doesn't faze them.  Local Catholic parishes struggle to stay afloat.  Traditional Catholics abandon their local parishes in search of what they consider more reverent "old fashioned" masses. Latin masses in the few Catholic churches that provide them are full, and many devout will travel miles to attend one.  Catholic schools are no longer overflowing with students and are forced to advertise and market their benefits which must extend beyond simply being Catholic in order to draw in new families.  The future of Catholicism looks weak. 

Enter the Synod called together by Pope Francis.  Excitement and hope fill some hearts, while worry and concern fill others.  Can the actions and opinions of the Cardinals and Bishops through the Synod permissably change the teachings of the Church? There is no simple answer.

There is a difference between Catholic dogma and Catholic doctrine, and these can be complicated to define. The Church's ability to establish dogma and doctrine was given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 18:18, "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  Catholic dogma, which consists of faith and morals as defined by the Church, is immutable.  For example, Purgatory is a Catholic dogma and must be believed as true by all Catholics and is an immutable teaching.  However,  Catholic doctrines are Catholic teachings which consist of Dogma, Canon Law, and theology.  Some of these doctrines are unchangeable, while theological opinions about which the Church has not made a formal pronouncement can be altered or carried out in a new way.

The Synod is a process of open and honest discussion among the Bishops and Cardinals about all the social issues facing Catholics today.  These shepherds are considering how far the pastoral care of their flocks can go without stepping over the bounds of Catholic doctrine.  There are no plans to change immutable teachings of the Church. However, Christ did step over some teachings of the Judaic Law in order to help those who were disenfranchised. Consider John 9:16 of the Gospel, "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.' But others asked, 'How can a sinner perform such signs?' So they were divided."  Also consider the words of the Apostle Paul who teaches that all of Christ's actions are worthy of imitation in 1 Cor. 11:1, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."  

 I have seen and heard some Catholics expressing joy and others worry in their opinions that Pope Francis is going to change Church teachings. It can't happen quickly in any case.  This is only the first of the Synods that Pope Francis plans to call to improve the pastoral care for the members of the Body of Christ.

Please pray the rosary with good meditation of the Gospel stories for the Bishops, Cardinals and Pope Francis to make wise Godly decisions for our Catholic Church through their difficult work.  




Sources:
Catholic.com
Newadvent.org
BibleHub.com

9 comments:

  1. ".. Purgatory is a Catholic dogma.." Limbo for children dead before coming into the world, was a dogma, like Hell or Heaven.


    Even so, Limbo was removed from the dogma....

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    1. Limbo was never Catholic dogma or doctrine. The fate of unbaptized infants had been a topic of debate for centuries. St. Augustine offered his own explanation and much later, St. Thomas Aquinas more fully defined the idea of a place called "Limbo." However, it was never a defined doctrine which binds a Catholic to belief. It is a theological view that Catholics can freely choose to accept or reject.

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  2. "Some of these doctrines are unchangeable, while some others can be altered, dropped, or carried out in a new way." This is an erroneous statement. Doctrine does not change. Colin Donovan explains: "Doctrine. The word doctrine comes, by way of the Latin doctrina, from the Greek word doxa, meaning belief. The doctrine(s) of the Church, therefore, are those teachings which must be believed by the faithful. These include 1) dogmas, teachings which the Church has solemnly defined as formally revealed by God, and, 2) other teachings definitively proposed by the Church because they are connected to solemnly defined teachings. The first (dogmas) can be called doctrines of divine faith, the second doctrines of catholic faith. Together they are said to be "of divine and catholic faith." Both kinds of doctrine require the assent of faith. Both are infallibly taught by the Church. Dogmas require it because they are formally revealed by God. Doctrines definitively proposed by the Church require it, because the infallibility of the Church in matters of faith and morals is itself divinely revealed. A side note, doctrine shares the same root as orthodox, meaning correct belief. Those who hold the Church's doctrines faithfully are thus orthodox." http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=564105

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  3. In my limited understanding, Dogma does not change. Canon Law can change if it does not require contradicting dogma. Theology that forms doctrine can be altered so long as the doctrine that binds it is adhered to. Although the methods of pastoral care associated with doctrine can be altered, all Catholics are bound to believe doctrine if and until such a time that it is altered. In other words, Catholics are indeed bound to believe and obey dogma as well as doctrine, but doctrine can be altered so long as it does not contradict the immutable dogma. If any of what I understand is incorrect, please clarify.

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    1. Correction: I wrote in the second line, "...so long as the doctrine that binds it is adhered to," but that should read, "...so long as the DOGMA that binds it is adhered to."

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    2. Doctrine is not something that can be "altered" as you suggest. Doctrine as Colin Donovan of the EWTN explained in my original post includes dogma. Dogma in a sense is a subset of doctrine. If it could be altered it would not be truth.

      Tim Stuart

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    3. I agree that dogma is a subset of doctrine. Dogma can never be changed. While the dogma part of doctrine cannot be changed, and Canon Law must be believed and followed, the area that becomes a bit more flexible is theological opinions about which the Church has not made a formal teaching. Catholics are free to agree or interpret in their own way this portion of doctrine, so long as it does not contradict Church teaching. Theological opinion can become dogma when the Church makes a formal pronouncement on it. You are correct that my statement doesn't make this clear,and I will edit it to make it more properly stated. Thank you Tim.

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  4. All these complicated terms such as dogma/doctrine!?... Personally I believe, and it is opinion if I may post, an important issue for practicing Catholic is to know about sin, prayer, worship. yet those ARE given by dogma and or doctrine.

    We must continue to pray for the leaders of our Church, for our parish priests... we can even adopt our parish priest in special assigned timed prayer just for them.

    Of course we must pray for our Pope, even if or when we do not agree or understand him. He is now given to us and that is all we need to know.
    with blessings
    Regina

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    1. I agree Regina! It is complicated and faith can really be so simple if we pray and worship! However, there are two sides of the fence that I'm trying to address. First, those who think a pope can simply "change" the beliefs of the Church, and those others who believe we should go back to the old days and the Church should not progress forward. Knowing a bit about how it all works helps us understand the task in front of the Bishops and Cardinals.

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