Contra Douthat: We are not on the edge of a precipice

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

by Tom Gallagher

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That didn't take long.

Over at America magazine, Jesuit Fr. John W. O'Malley, a university professor in the theology department at Georgetown University and author of What Happened at Vatican II, quickly dismissed Ross Douthat's New York Times Sunday column, "The Pope and the Precipice."

Douthat argues that Pope Francis is sowing confusion through the topics raised at the recent synod on the family and with the possibility that things may change. O'Malley points out in his essay:

Change is in the air at the synod. To that extent Mr. Douthat is right. Moreover, change is problematic for an institution whose very reason for existence is to preserve and proclaim unchanged a message received long ago. Yet, given our human condition, change is inevitable. Sometimes change is required precisely in order to remain faithful to the tradition. It has in that way been operative in the church from the beginning.

For the self-described conservatives wholeheartedly against Pope Francis and change, O'Malley educates the reader that every council of the church was an instrument of change. But no, the church is not on the edge of a precipice, as Douthat posits.

Douthat claims that Pope Francis -- to the extent he changes pastoral practices -- is betraying the loyal conservative "orthodox" Catholics. He says: "They [the conservative Catholics] have kept the faith amid moral betrayals by their leaders; they do not deserve a theological betrayal."


Even more surprising, and disturbing, in Douthat's essay were his final two paragraphs:

But if [Pope Francis] seems to be choosing the more dangerous path -- if he moves to reassign potential critics in the hierarchy [referencing the rumored removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke from the Apostolic Signatura], if he seems to be stacking the next synod's ranks with supporters of a sweeping change -- then conservative Catholics will need a cleareyed understanding of the situation.

They can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.

Is Douthat really threatening the pope and calling for both an insurrection against Pope Francis and a schism?

O'Malley has done a real service to the church by quickly debunking such a scandalous and misguided column by Ross Douthat.

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