Orthodoxy & Dissent

Truth & the Need for Humility

St. Pius X, in his encyclical Vehementer (1902), wrote: “By its very nature the church is a society of unequals; it is composed of two categories of persons: the pastors and the flocks. Only the hierarchy moves and directs...the duty of the flock is to let itself be governed and submissively carry out the orders of those who direct them.” Such a simplistic understanding of the church would seem to have been supplanted by the declarations of Vatican II, as well as by the social and cultural changes that have taken place in the century since Vehementer’s promulgation. When it comes to the church’s teachings about sexual morality, however, this clericalist view is still very much with us. Some still believe that everything the church has ever taught about sex is universal, timeless, rooted in the very nature of things. On this view, once these moral teachings are questioned, their dogmatic foundation is weakened and everything falls apart. Any bishop who wants to remain in good grace with the Vatican is obliged to uphold these teachings in his pastoral directives. For others, the church’s moral teachings are unreasonable, anachronistic, even hypocritical. On their view, Catholic sexual morality should adapt to important changes in contemporary culture. There is a swelling discontent among the laity...

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About the Author

Jerry Ryan joined the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1959. He lived and worked with them for more than two decades in Europe and South America. He and his family now live in Massachusetts.