A Changing Church

NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF

On the day Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told CNN how delighted he was with the selection: “What you saw is an affirmation by the cardinals that the church is not going to change, even though maybe Europe and North America want it to,” he said. “It is going to stay the way it has been for two thousand years.”

With all due respect to the gentleman from Pennsylvania, the church has been changing for two thousand years. In fact, if she is to remain true to herself, she cannot stop changing. Though some politicians and theologians live in a black-and-white world-both politically and religiously-history makes it clear that the only constant in the human condition is change. Take a closer look at church history and you find an enduring pull of opposites, of both change and continuity-sometimes in conflict, sometimes in creative tension.

Why is change frightening? Case in point: John Paul II’s hundred-plus apologies. These were, at bottom, about change: neither an individual nor an institution like the church can move forward if there is no reckoning with past mistakes. As anyone going through therapy or a career switch knows, this means having the courage to change. Who wants to admit error and acknowledge the need for change? Yet such an admission is a humble sign of strength, not weakness, for institution and individual alike. Change is at the very heart of metanoia. Some...

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About the Author

Christopher M. Bellitto is assistant professor of history at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.