Why is the Church Unwilling to Change?

Thomas Griffin 1/31/23

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“The Church is too traditional and old-fashioned,” remarks the masses on social media and major news outlets. “Why doesn’t the Church get with the times on so many issues?” asks countless Catholics who have decided to leave the Church and no longer practice their faith. 

These questions are both popular and mainstream. They reflect opinions of the world concerning the fact that there are many teachings in the Church that are not popular and that defy the mainstream understanding of life, the human person, religion and God. Since so many disagree with some teachings, they ask the obvious question, “Why does the Church keep these teachings if they are so unpopular and out-of-touch with what people think?” This is actually a good question which deserves a decent answer.

First, there are different levels of teaching in the Catholic Church. Some teachings can adapt and change (like aspects of the liturgy) while some cannot change (like the teaching that God is real or that Jesus rose from the dead). This is important because the teachings that appear to be old-fashioned are all ones that cannot change. However, they cannot change because they are rooted in the truth and given to us by God Himself.

Two famous examples are the Church’s teaching on marriage and the Church’s teaching on abortion. Marriage is the lifelong commitment of a man and woman to be forever faithful, loyal and exclusive to one another in their love while being open to receiving children. Marital love is, by its definition, open to receiving new life. Two individuals can love each other in many different ways, but marital love is concerned with spousal love. The love between a man and woman is so great that it literally results in the creation of other people. In that way, their love reflects the creative power of God’s love – who loved each one of us into existence.

Therefore, the Church cannot change marriage because it is given to us by God. God created human beings as male and female. God, in His divine wisdom, made the world in a way that new life comes very specifically. In the nature of the family, we are never born alone. It always, biologically and scientifically, takes a man and a woman to make a new baby. This undeniable truth is rooted in the fact that God is love and He desires for us to know His love through our parents – who love us into existence and are called to sacrifice everything for us.  

This month, on January 20th, the March for Life will take place for the 49th straight year in Washington, D.C. This past June, we received word that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The Church teaches that abortion is immoral in every single case. That the act, by its very nature, is evil. In order to understand this we must know what the act actually is. 

Abortion, according to the National Library of Medicine, is the suctioning out of a human fetus from the woman’s womb. The human tissue is then placed in the trash or medical waste containers. It is strictly a medical procedure whose sole purpose is to kill the unborn child in the mother’s womb.

Science tells us that what is in the womb is a human life. From the moment of conception (sperm fertilizes an egg) we have a unique set of human DNA. Scientific study has also revealed that a baby has a heartbeat at 18 days. Brain waves at 42 days. All body systems present at 8 weeks. Fingernails at 11 weeks. Has vocal chords and can cry at 12 weeks. Can feel pain at 20 weeks. Can survive outside of the womb at 22-23 weeks.

Every human life has value. No matter the mental or physical health of the child and no matter how that child was conceived. So the Church is not old-fashioned and bigoted against women. The Church, in the name of God, defends the most vulnerable members of society – an infant in the womb. The Church stands for the infinite worth of every single human life no matter his or her location, development or age. 

This is why the March for Life continues each January. Because every life is worth protecting and because we are called upon, by God, to stand for the value of each life. Being pro-life means that a person is willing to take a position on this volatile issue knowing that some people will be offended. We do this, not to be arrogant, but for the child in the womb. So we must never hold to the position that we are personally against abortion, but are alright with others utilizing it. 

Bishop Robert Barron helps clarify this: “We must never say ‘I am personally opposed to abortion, but publicly I support it.’ However, since opposition to abortion, as we have just shown, is not a conviction born of ‘dogma’ but rather of moral reasoning, it is utterly incoherent to claim that one can hold to the position privately but not defend it publicly. It would be precisely analogous to someone in the nineteenth century saying that though he personally finds slavery abhorrent, he will do nothing to eliminate it or even to stop its spread.”

The Church is not out of touch with reality, but deeply entrenched in the fight for the good because she is willing to say, even against mass criticism, life is worth protecting at all stages. Life is beautiful and has meaning no matter what. Human dignity does not change, so we cannot make compromises for the worth of individuals when it is convenient or easy. 

In these two difficult topics, we know that real people are impacted in real ways. So these words are not meant to gloss over real experiences people have. However, we are called upon to live in the light of the truth. If that makes us sound old-fashioned, so be it. 

Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He has a masters degree in theology and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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