‘You can’t pick and choose in Catholic moral teaching’

By Greg Watry

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The church must evolve with the times, and the clergy must stand by their faith in the face of animosity from the secular world, a Catholic philosopher said.

John Rist, a philosopher and professor at The Catholic University of America, said in the latest edition of Vatican Voices that in order for Catholicism to flourish the clergy “have got to be visible, they have to be unpopular in many cases.  If they don’t, they’ll be failing their job.”


(CNS Photo)

Rist recognizes the risks the clergy take when promoting Catholic philosophy.  “If you say you’re opposed to abortion you don’t get your head cut off, but you get abused.  You might be called a pedophile or something like that.”

But young people, who are idealistic, are drawn to morally brave behavior, he said.  Priests set a good example for the laity by defending their faith.

In order to defend the faith, Rist said, one must learn what secular culture says and why.  By not engaging with the secular world, the church alienates itself and “the outside world gets further and further away, and you get less and less chance to have contact with it or even understand what it’s doing.”

The church addressed the issue of secularism during the Second Vatican Council.  However the council fathers didn’t understand “the problem they were trying to solve,” Rist said.  “They knew somehow the church was out of sync with the modern world,” he said, but not why.

During Vatican II and still today, he said, the problem of disconnection with the modern world lies in stagnant thinking.

Theologians don’t understand that the church is allowed to evolve, Rist said.  “They think that if we open the door to thinking and considering change, we’re going to lose everything.”

The truth is the church is always in a state of flux, Rist said.  Dramatic changes, as those that occurred during Vatican II, have happened throughout the history of the church.

In the New Testament, Rist said, Jesus claims, “’I will lead you to all truth,’ not I’ll give it to you right now on a plate.”

A Vatican Christmas mystery

VATICAN CITY — In the popular imagination, the Vatican is a hotbed of intrigue.

The latest mystery in the Vatican press office is “the case of the missing ox and donkey.”

The press office Nativity scene this morning; sheep take the place of the ox and donkey ... until the mystery is solved.

The press office Nativity scene this morning; sheep take the place of the ox and donkey … until the mystery is solved.

Like every Vatican office, the press office has a Nativity scene. It was set up last Friday — and I even helped. The set was in complete compliance with Italian pre-Christmas rules: Mary and Joseph were there, but the baby Jesus will not make an appearance until midnight Christmas. The Three Kings are still in the box and will remain there until the feast of the Epiphany Jan. 6. The shepherds, sheep and angel are all present in expectation of the Savior’s birth.

And, of course, there was an ox on one side of the empty manger and a donkey on the other side.

But as of yesterday, no trace was found of the two animals.

Press office staff asked me if I knew who took them; I wasn’t a suspect, it’s just that the CNS cubicle is closest to the “presepio.”

I didn’t see anything, but I had my suspicions. (A likely suspect, one of my colleagues, called to say it wasn’t him. However, he’s willing to go to the Vatican jail for a few days … but just because he thinks he could get a “scoop” by interviewing, or at least being jailed with, the papal butler.)

Some people at the press office think it’s funny, others don’t, but all agree it has to do with Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.”

In the book, the pope said the Gospels make no mention of animals being present in the stable when Jesus was born, but he also said no Nativity scene would be complete without them.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, said jokingly, “We will open a formal inquest.”