Shake up at the Vatican. Cardinal Burke, one of the most powerful conservative Americans over there who led the counter-attack when it looked like the latest synod was going to go soft on the question of homosexuals and divorcees, was demoted to a purely ceremonial position. He compared the Church under Pope Francis to a ship without a rudder, and while it may not be the most flattering image to BE a rudder (“I admire him, he’s such a rudder!”) it certainly is a challenge, if not downright rude to use this metaphor for the man who has God’s ear and is infallible. In the Middle Ages this would have been considered heresy and they would be stacking the wood at the stake for Cardinal Burke.
This recent contretemps in the Holy See points up how problematic the Church’s doctrines are. Is the Pope infallible or isn’t he? Can the Church shift direction or can’t it? Was there one law from God delivered to humankind via the Bible or not, and can that law change? Because if it can’t someone has a lot of explaining to do from things as profound as the motion of the planets (the Bible says the sun moves, not the earth) to the mundane (you’re not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath, remember?—none, zero—it couldn’t be spelled out more clearly….so why isn’t Cardinal Burke up in arms about the stores being open on Sundays?).
It all comes down to this: any doctrine that does not include universality, the idea that there are many paths to the divine, is bankrupt in the century we live in. To say that God favored one particular people with His wisdom and His instructions on how to live a life devoted to the Good is absurd. It would mean that He nodded approvingly as one small group trod the straight and narrow and were saved, while all those people in the past who never had a chance to learn what He wanted ended up in the inferno. So all the Native-Americans prior to the 16th century had no chance, nor did Muslims who had never heard the Word, or if you are a Muslim, you would believe that no Christian had a chance, Christians who never even had the opportunity to learn what Mohammed told us. What kind of God would set up the world in that way?
So when Francis tries to nudge his flock in the direction of a wider acceptance and urge us to treat gays and divorcees with more respect, the keepers of the Old Ways compare his leadership to a ship that’s floating aimlessly. A better metaphor would be this: To continue on the course they’re on, with the helm firmly tied in place and with colors nailed into the mast will keep the Catholic Church on course all right, a course that is headed straight into a reef that will rip out its hull and sink it. That reef is called “Reality.” The Church’s numbers are rapidly dwindling, there are fewer and fewer men willing to become priests, over 90% of women ignore the Church’s teaching on birth control. These are not the signs of a happy ship.