Letters | History vs. Tradition, the Meaning of Marriage

Readers Respond

Terror Of History

Nicholas Clifford’s piece “Historical Amnesia” (September 27), taking its cue from John Noonan’s A Church That Can and Cannot Change (1993) and Dennis O’Brien’s bon mot—that the church has a strong sense of tradition but no sense of history—is very much to the point. I commend him for focusing attention on a crucial issue at the heart of our current Catholic discontent.

I would add three points: First, the tendency to overlook the reality of change extends not only to matters ethical (like slavery) or other basic issues (like religious freedom), but also to the neuralgic issue of the very nature and location of the church’s teaching authority itself.

Second, the changes involved cannot simply be explained away as routine instances of doctrinal “development.” Instead, some of them are changes that are radically discontinuous with the past. They are instances, in fact, of the sort of “rupture” that Benedict XVI clearly wished to exclude as simply inconceivable.

Third, the manifest inability or unwillingness of our church leaders to face up to such unwelcome facts is not simply (or wholly) to be explained by “memory loss,” “historical forgetfulness...

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