The Pope Francis Agenda: big changes for the Church

I expect that Pope Francis will bring several big changes to the Roman Catholic Church.

Now some conservative commentators say that the Pope should preserve the past and guard against change. To some extent, this is true. The teachings of Divine Revelation do not change. The Pope and the body of Bishops are tasked with guarding the Sacred Deposit of Faith: Tradition and Scripture.

However, the Magisterium has not taught every truth found in Divine Revelation. The Church increases in wisdom as she progresses on her pilgrim journey to Heaven. The truths of Divine Revelation become ever more clear, as time passes and the Magisterium newly-defines doctrines ever-present in Divine Revelation.

The Pope must not only preserve the past, he must lead the Church forward on her pilgrim journey to become ever-holier and ever-wiser — to become ever-more like Jesus and Mary.

Therefore, it is the task of the Pope to bring change to the Church, while preserving and clarifying past teachings.

I believe that Pope Francis will make the following changes to discipline and doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church:

1. Allowing more married men to become priests. The Roman Catholic Church has always had some married priests, especially in the Eastern Churches, but occasionally also in the Latin Rite. The Pope can broaden access to the Sacrament of Holy Orders by married men without changing any doctrine. For example, married permanent deacons could be permitted to seek ordination to the priesthood.

However, I don’t believe that Pope Francis will allow any/all priests to seek a wife and marry. The discipline has always been married first, then Holy Orders. Many problems would arise if priests started dating and seeking wives.

2. Teaching that the Church has the authority to ordain women to the deaconate (only). The Roman Catholic Magisterium already infallibly teaches that Jesus did not give His Church the authority to ordain women as priests or bishops. But ordination to the deaconate is an open question. Pope Francis could settle this open question, in favor of ordaining women deacons, without contradicting any infallible or non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium.

3. Teaching that non-Catholic Christians can be saved without converting to Catholicism.

Perhaps he will teach this doctrine later this month (July 2014), when he visits an Italian city to meet with both Catholics and Evangelical Christians, including a Protestant pastor who has previously participated in ecumenical events with the Pontiff (before he became Pope).

4. Teaching that non-Christian believers can be saved without converting to Christianity.

5. Teaching that non-believers can be saved without converting to belief in God.

As long as a person enters the state of grace by some form of baptism, and dies in that state, he or she has eternal life. A non-believer can enter the state of grace by implicit baptism of desire through the love of neighbor and the grace of God. Everyone who truly loves his neighbor also truly loves God, at least implicitly.

6. Allowing flexibility in liturgical form. Pope Francis is not a big supporter of the Latin Mass (nor is he against it). But he does not support the idea that the Mass should exist in only one form, with immutable specifics. Christ established the Mass, but He did not establish one exact form of the Mass with immutable specifics. The Church has the authority to change the form of the Mass — all the wailing and moaning of ultra-conservatives notwithstanding. Priests could be permitted to make ad hoc changes to the prayers and the form, within certain limits. Bishops could be permitted to make somewhat broader changes for their diocese, as could a Bishops’ Conference.

7. Condemning a long list of claimed private revelations. Pope Francis is liberal. Conservatives tend to accept fewer claimed private revelations than liberal do. But Pope Francis is not a slave to liberalism. (And you should not be a slave to any point of view, liberal or conservative.) His comments to-date seem to show disfavor toward claimed private revelation. I expect Pope Francis to issue a judgment against a long list of claimed private revelations, including Medjugorje and Garabandal. (But this type of judgment falls under the temporal authority of the Church, not the infallible teaching authority.)

The response of the Church to some/all of these changes? Many conservatives will leave the Church, resulting in the start of the great apostasy.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to The Pope Francis Agenda: big changes for the Church

  1. Dot says:

    I just read an article that said, of course, married priests would not use birth control. They would have 10 or 12 kids, which would be problematic. Maybe allowing “mature” married priests would be a better idea.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The old “rhythm method” of Natural Family Planning was good enough to keep family size to about 5 to 7 kids. The newer methods of NFP, depending on how strictly they are used, can keep family size to 2 to 4 kids. However, I’m not in favor of expanding the number of married priests. Married life has many difficulties that would reduce the effectiveness of the priest as a pastor.

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