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.”
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.”