This week’s column has two simple goals.
The first is to alert people to an important new religious liberty initiative at Villanova University. The Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion, and Public Policy, founded just last year, is led by University Professor of Law and Religion Michael Moreland. Professor Moreland is a veteran of First Amendment issues and a longtime source of valuable scholarly help to the Church, both locally and nationally, on religious freedom and related matters. In the Center’s own words:
“At this crucial period in American history, the McCullen Center . . . seeks to bring together concerns about the First Amendment and economic freedom in a common framework that situates both topics amid a larger conversation about freedom and the rule of law. The [Center] aspires to broaden the academic and public appreciation for the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion and for economic freedom as essential components of a free society.”
The McCullen Center is exactly the sort of effort Catholics in the metro area should be aware of and support in the years ahead – years that will likely challenge the Church’s freedom to preach the Gospel and pursue her various ministries in the public square. I’m grateful to Mr. Joseph McCullen (a Villanova alumnus) for generously backing Professor Moreland in his vital work.
My second goal connects to the first. On Tuesday, April 10, the McCullen Center will host New York Times columnist Ross Douthat for a discussion of his new book, To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (Simon and Schuster), and the issues facing Catholics in the future. Douthat is among the most articulate cultural observers in the United States. His previous book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2013), is a penetrating explanation of the American temperament and the religious landscape it has produced. To Change the Church is an equally intelligent and absorbing work, even when the reader finds himself questioning or disagreeing with it.
I’ve been pleased to welcome Ross Douthat as a speaker at the Archbishop’s Lecture Series here in Philadelphia in the past. It’s a pleasure now to encourage readers to attend his April 10 presentation at 4 p.m., at Villanova’s Charles Widger School of Law, in the Arthur M. Goldberg ’66 Commons. Admission is free; there’s no charge.
In his shrewd recent First Things review of To Change the Church – a review almost as interesting as the book itself – the distinguished (and quite Catholic) Cambridge University scholar of the Reformation, Richard Rex, wrote that:
“The little debate in the Catholic Church about Communion for the divorced and remarried is a microcosm, then, of a much broader argument about the nature of humanity, human life, and human sexuality. The current tensions within Catholicism reflect changes and tensions in Western culture as a whole, relating to an entire alphabet of beliefs and practices: abortion, bisexuality, contraception, divorce, euthanasia, family, gender, homosexuality, infertility treatment . . . Western society is moving in a very different direction from Catholicism on all these issues. Not from Catholics—from Catholicism. Opinion polls seem to indicate that, while lagging some way behind, opinion among those identifying as Catholic is shifting on almost all these issues in the direction set by society at large. This is a moral shift of an epochal nature. But whatever individual Catholics may think, the new moral consensus, or at least spectrum, is utterly irreconcilable with Catholicism. If Catholicism were to reconcile itself to the new moral order of Western society, then it would be abandoning its past, its tradition, and thus its identity. It would give up its claim to truth and, therefore, its claim upon our faith . . .
“If, after all, marriage is not a divine union of male and female in one flesh, dissolved only by the inevitable dissolution of that flesh in death, then the Catholic Church has, in the name of Christ, needlessly tormented the consciences of untold numbers of the faithful for twenty centuries. If this teaching were to be modified in the name of mercy, then the Church would already have been outdone in mercy not only by most other religions but even by the institutions and impulses of the modern secular state. Such a conclusion would definitively explode any pretension to moral authority on the part of the Church. A Church which could be so wrong, for so long, on a matter so fundamental to human welfare and happiness could hardly lay claim to decency, let alone infallibility.”
My thanks go out to Professor Michael Moreland for his courage and good sense in creating the McCullen Center. May it be fruitful, effective, and grow.
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