There is no doubt that the Catholic Church is changing in many ways. Indeed it has changed in many ways within our lifetimes. And often in ways which, say, fifty years ago we would have thought impossible. So it might be interesting to consider what may happen in the future. This week I am going to list some possibilities – without attempting to approve or disapprove. But you may think of many more and, of course, you are free to judge how welcome or unwelcome, they are.
First of all comes papal democracy. As things stand at the moment the next pope will be voted in by the cardinals. So it’s in the hands of these old gents about whom we know very little. They have by definition succeeded in reaching high office, but that may simply mean that they are better at ecclesiastical manipulation than being either wise or virtuous. Surely one day we will select the pope democratically, even if there is an interim stage when the immediate choice is made by the diocesan bishops – who must have taken advice from the junior clergy and their laity. Indeed taking the advice of the laity will, for several issues, be obligatory.
Of course there will be a wider pool for choice because by then women will have become priests, and eventually bishops – there may be a successor to Pope Joan (IXth century). It seems to work well in Anglicanism, and although the current Church declares this to be impossible, that is simply ecclesiastical stick-in-the-mud.
In fact the clergy will have rather more time than heretofore. The future of granting absolution will be general rather than individual. After all the whole process is automatic: express your contrition and your firm purpose of amendment – and you’re home and dry. It might just as well be done in public. Of course, you might want to know whether such or such an activity is sinful – mortal or venial, and what the penance should be. But that now could be available through artificial intelligence – much more accurate than relying on the individual confessor.
This of course requires the Church to go through the whole range of moral/immoral possibilities, and other factors such as motivation, excuses etc. But in the end we would have an absolutely splendid and comprehensive moral law. Naturally the Church will make this a very serious source, and would suggest infallibility or near infallibility. This might be be a little threatening, but the individual could always apply the “1968″ clause. This is named after the publication date of Humanae Vitae – following which several senior bishops told their flocks that they were free to apply their consciences to the question. Basically it means: think about a moral issue, then take your choice.
Of course this Blog will want to share in this more democratic approach so, at some time, I will issue the regulation that should John Nolan and Nektarios, our elders, both agree about some subject – indeed any subject – I will follow their decision immediately.