Cardinal Robert McElroy, in his recent remarks to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, stated the following:

“It is essential to safeguard the deposit of faith. But how do the doctrinal tradition and history of the church restrict the church’s ability to refine its teaching when confronted with a world where life itself is evolving in critical ways, and it is becoming clear that on some issues the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective?”

What does Cardinal McElroy mean by “life itself is evolving in critical ways”, as he does not define what he means by “life” here? We can surmise, perhaps, that he means the cultural context in which our lives are now embedded—and that this context has changed in radical ways. If that is all he means, then I am in full agreement. However, also left undefined is whether this “evolution” is, on the whole, a positive or a negative thing when analyzed from within a Catholic theological vision of life. And I have to think that the good Cardinal views this evolution in a largely positive light since he is lamenting the fact that current construals of Catholic doctrine need to be refined in the light of this new reality. And by “refined” it is clear that he means “repudiated and then reconstructed in line with modernity”.

Before I am criticized for reading too much into his words, Cardinal McElroy himself goes on to say that “it is now becoming clear that on some issues the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective…” Certain doctrines of the Church need to change in order to keep up with cultural evolution, and the doctrinal tradition “restricts” the efforts of those who now see “clearly” that we need to “refine” these teachings. Indeed, the older doctrines to which he is referring—and he clearly means in the whole context of his speech the sexual doctrines—not only restrict our ability to bless the modern shift in sexual morality, but that they are also in fact “defective” and rooted in a now discredited “understanding of human nature”.

….The claim is made that homosexual acts as such were never properly understood by the Scriptural authors or later Church interpreters since they did not understand, or have knowledge of, what we moderns now “know”: homosexuality is a deep-seated orientation and those in same-sex relationships really can love each other.

….It is important that we understand that the words of Cardinal McElroy in his speech were not the isolated, idiosyncratic ramblings of a single wayward and confused Cardinal who can be safely ignored. His words are expressive of a powerful movement within the Church by many in the hierarchy and the theological academy to change the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. The fact that he uttered such words at one of the largest gatherings of religious educators in the United States, without any evident fear of ecclesial discipline from above, says all you need to know about the increasing sense of empowerment that this movement feels at the moment.

….Make no mistake, Cardinal McElroy is not calling for a deepening of our doctrines or their organic development. He is calling for their repudiation and reversal….

Fromm Larry Chapp in Catholic World Report