The G-8 Cardinals Gather & The Most Important Reform

National Catholic Reporter

Michael Sean Winters | Sep. 27, 2013 Distinctly Catholic

The cardinals who comprise the special commission to advise the Pope, the G-8, begin arriving in Rome today for preparatory meetings. Next Tuesday, they begin meeting with Pope Francis for three days of discussions, followed by a visit to Assisi. There has been a great deal of analysis about what we should expect, much of it very good, much of it published here at NCR. I believe the most important reform to come from the G-8 meeting will be simple and far-reaching: They are going to re-arrange the furniture.

My colleague Fr. Tom Reese, S.J., has already noted that in addition to the relatively simple managerial reforms, there needs to be a deeper reform of how the curia works and how it relates to the universal Church. There is talk about merging several Pontifical Councils into a large dicastry, perhaps even putting a layperson at its head. That would be great. Already, the G-8 will serve as a kind of check on the curia, a sounding board for the pope to see if the work of the curia is more of a burden or a blessing for local churches.

Some people advocate a wholesale change of doctrine, and I suspect they will be disappointed. Doctrine does not change, it develops. Those who invoke human dignity to promote this or that agenda item should always be mindful of the fact that there are few indignities greater than being a child of one’s own age. Conversely, those who insist that “nothing changes” need to hit the library. The Church’s teaching developed on usury and mandatory clerical celibacy in the middle ages, it developed on papal infallibility in the nineteenth century and on Church-State relations in the twentieth. The teaching on usury is especially instructive. In a pre-modern economy, the charging of interest under any circumstances would exploit the poor. As a commercial economy developed, the need for credit emerged and the prohibition on all usury was likely to exploit the poor. The teaching on usury, then, changed in order that the fundamental, evangelical value, not exploiting the poor, could remain the same. The doctrine did not change. The ambient circumstances changed, so the doctrine needed to develop in order to stay true to its deepest meaning.

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