Pope John Paul Visits a Restless Flock
DURING ten busy days last September, Pope John Paul II jetted across North America, visiting nine U.S. cities and a village in Canada’s Northwest Territories. He reached out to non-Catholics and at the same time dealt with a growing independence in his North American flock.
Priests questioned the church’s rules on celibacy. Bishops suggested its moral rules were too strict. American Indians protested the way the church had treated their ancestors.
The pope addressed the growing practice among U.S. Catholics of ‘picking and choosing’ the parts of church teaching they want to follow. For example, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis explained that many people say: “I’m Catholic, but I won’t accept everything the Pope teaches.” Time magazine reported: “Once regarded by Rome as among the most dutiful sons and daughters of the church, many American Catholics now believe they have a right to pick and choose the elements of their faith, ignoring teachings of the church they disagree with.”
This visit was orchestrated with great care. Texts not only of what church representatives would say but even of what Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders would tell the pope were sent to the Vatican long in advance so that careful responses could be prepared.
The tour began in Miami on September 10. There, Catholic priest Frank J. McNulty, speaking as the representative of the 57,000 U.S. priests, urged the pope to consider such divisive issues as priestly celibacy, the growing drift of Catholics away from church teachings, and women’s desire for a larger role in the church. He said that the value of celibacy “has eroded and continues to erode in the minds of many.” The Los Angeles Times commented that the pope’s “mildly worded” response “did not touch directly on any of the issues [McNulty] raised” but that the pope “did stress the duty of priests to submit to his teaching authority.”
Next, in Columbia, South Carolina, John Paul met with non-Catholic religious leaders. In New Orleans he warned theologians teaching in Catholic schools that they are not free to depart from official church teachings.
In Phoenix, Arizona, he confessed to “mistakes and wrongs” members of his church had committed in the past against American Indians, and he publicly accepted a religiously symbolic eagle feather from an Indian medicine man.
Then, at a meeting with 300 U.S. bishops in Los Angeles, cardinal John R. Quinn told the pope: “We as pastors are greatly concerned that some particular areas of the church’s teaching in both sexual and social morality are at times subjected to negative criticism in our country and sometimes even by Catholics of good will.” The pope replied that it is a “grave error” for Catholics to consider themselves faithful if they dissent from church teachings on “sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage . . . [and] abortion.”
Homosexuality was discussed in San Francisco, a city in which AIDS had already taken more than 2,150 lives. Sixty-two victims of AIDS were part of a group that met with the pope. Among them were two priests, a former monk, a number of homosexual men, and a four-year-old boy who had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion.
In Detroit, John Paul condemned abortion. He said: “Respect for life and its protection by the law [should be] granted to every human being from conception until natural death.” From Detroit he went to Fort Simpson, in Canada, where he gave a “ringing endorsement” to Indian demands for self-government and possession of their own land.
How did U.S. Catholics react to the pope’s stand? The Times of London observed: “While his magnetic personal presence had undoubtedly uplifted the Church, his uncompromising demands for obedience to the Vatican have only heightened dissent.”
Governed by Christ?
In Miami, at the beginning of his tour, Pope John Paul had said that the reason for accepting Catholic authority is that his church “is an institution governed by Jesus Christ.” If that were true, should not its teachings be uncompromisingly obeyed? Why should priests want to change Christ’s teachings? And why should bishops be concerned about public criticism?
The problem is that not all these church rules were based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Some reflect ideas, policies, and traditions that have been accumulated down through the centuries rather than being based on Christ’s own teachings and on the beliefs he originally transmitted to his followers.
You might find it extremely interesting to compare these modern teachings with what Jesus and his apostles really taught.
What Jesus and His Apostles Really Said
These teachings are preserved in a book that contains the only accurate written record of Jesus’ own words and of what he and his apostles actually taught. You may already own a copy of that book, the Bible. It shows what true Christianity really taught before so many human ideas were added. The following quotations (except the one from Exodus) are of statements recorded by Jesus’ apostles themselves, discussing actions that are not permitted in the true Christian congregation:
Sex Outside of Marriage: “People of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers . . . will never inherit the kingdom of God.”—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, The Jerusalem Bible.
“When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility . . . those who behave like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”—Galatians 5:19-21, JB.
Homosexual Practices: “That is why God has abandoned them to degrading passions: . . . why their menfolk have given up natural intercourse to be consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameless things with men and getting an appropriate reward for their perversion.”—Romans 1:26, 27, JB.
“Neither fornicators . . . nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”—1 Corinthians 6:9-11; see also 1 Timothy 1:9-11.
Abortion: The Bible says that if even by accident two struggling men should “hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out . . . if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul.” Thus, even if a careless lack of concern caused the death of an unborn, that act was punishable by death. And the Christian apostle John wrote: “No manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.”—Exodus 21:22, 23; 1 John 3:15.
Following are things Jesus and his apostles did not mention. These unnecessary restrictions were added later.
Priestly Celibacy: Paul, Jesus’ apostle who carried Christianity to the non-Jewish world, showed that celibacy was not required. He wrote: “Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Kephas [Peter]?”—1 Corinthians 9:5, The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition.
No Remarriage: Jesus showed that there is one sin against a person’s mate that is so serious that it can make divorce and remarriage permissible. He said: “I now say to you, whoever divorces his wife (lewd conduct is a separate case) and marries another commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9, NAB) In a footnote to verse 9 the above-mentioned Bible translation states: “Lewd conduct is a separate case: literally ‘except for porneia,’ i. e., immorality, fornication, even incest.”
Rules Regarding Contraception: The Bible says children should be loved, cared for, and reared according to godly principles, but nowhere does it state that each act of sexual intercourse should provide the opportunity for a child to be conceived. It does not mention birth control to limit the size of a family within marriage.
If the Catholic Church were truly an institution governed by Christ Jesus, then all its teachings and practices would be in complete harmony with God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures. It would not be experiencing division among its bishops, priests, and church members. The matter is serious. Jesus said: “Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses.” (Luke 11:17, JB) May this situation move our Catholic readers to look more thoroughly into the Bible so as to learn what God requires in order for us to be acceptable to him. Jehovah’s Witnesses will be pleased to assist in this.
[Box on page 25]
Acceptance of Church Teaching
A Time magazine poll taken last August (published September 7) showed the extent to which Americans who say they are Catholic disagree with official church teaching. It reported these figures:
27% of U.S. Catholics interviewed said women should have the right to abortion on demand
53% thought priests should be allowed to marry
78% said it is permissible for Catholics to “make up their own minds” on such issues as birth control and abortion
93% believed “it is possible to disagree with the Pope and still be a good Catholic”
A New York Times/CBS News Poll (published September 11, 1987, in The New York Times) showed similar doubts among priests:
24% said they personally favored “the use of artificial methods of birth control”
55% favored allowing priests to marry
57% said a person could disagree “with the church that having an abortion is a sin” and “still be a good Catholic”
[Box on page 26]
Celibacy Not a First-Century Command
Pope Paul VI endorsed the requirement of celibacy for the clergy but acknowledged that “the New Testament which preserves the teaching of Christ and the Apostles . . . does not openly demand celibacy of sacred ministers . . . Jesus Himself did not make it a prerequisite in His choice of the Twelve, nor did the Apostles for those who presided over the first Christian communities.”—Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (Priestly Celibacy, 1967).
[Box on page 26]
“Drive Out This Evil-Doer . . . ”
The apostle Paul told first-century Christians what to do about an immoral person in the congregation: “You should not associate with a brother Christian who is leading an immoral life . . . You must drive out this evil-doer from among you.” Does your church really do that?—1 Corinthians 5:11-13, JB.