Thank Goodness Encyclicals Aren’t Binding On Catholics


The Church exists to make us aware that Christ has profoundly altered mankind’s existential and eschatological circumstances and to help us adjust our lives accordingly. Secondarily, she may use her powers of persuasion to urge the adoption of moral standards and social arrangements most congenial to man’s Christ-altered condition. As for the Church’s primary duty, there will always be scandals, for our sin-ridden impulse is to insist on having our own way. When it comes to the Church’s ancillary task of giving prudential counsel on how best to use material resources or on what political or economic arrangements are most conducive to human flourishing, her admonitions might receive a more attentive hearing if accompanied by her awareness that these are matters beyond her inherent competence. She cannot avoid certain scandals related to her primary duty. When it comes to more worldly matters, however, her advice will more likely receive a proper hearing if given in an avuncular and not a hectoring tone.

For example, this from someone who seems otherwise favorably predisposed to the teachings of the Church:

“While rightly speaking against a culture of ‘practical relativism,’ [Pope Francis] states that the same ‘thinking that leads to sexual exploitation of children…is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.’

“Perhaps I misunderstand the Holy Father’s point. Does he mean to say that anyone who trusts the billions of individual decisions which constitute ‘the market’ is no better than one who sells children into sex slavery? Or is it only those who also dismiss the ‘collateral damage’ that are, for all intents and purposes, members of ISIS? Was this meant as a challenge, or an insult? I know how I took it.”

Neal Dewing

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