Challenges for the Faith

From secular culture

Jesus “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6

“The truth will make you free.“ (John, 8:32)


cultural responses to mask wearing; authority-constraints of rights and freedoms

-spectacular cultural, political and economic trauma has generational consequences

-no return to normal

-many have left the Church; will not returning and do not miss it


Reading the “signs of the times”

The technologically driven information society is a real cultural revolution. We have moved from oral communication to print to the seductive, even addictive, power of technological communication. This presents real challenges for meaningful dialogue where there is rapidly changing input and the Church is seen as only one source of truth.

The Church must use technology and social media for education and: “The Church’s approach to the means of social communication is fundamentally positive, encouraging” (Pontifical Council for Social Communications,2000). 

However, Canadian Catholic philosopher Marshall McLuhan provided early insights in The Medium Is the Message. He cautioned:

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the message. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without knowledge of the way media work as environments. (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967, 26)

Ideology is embedded in every technology, and the uses of any technology are largely determined by the structure of the technology itself – that is – its function follows from its form.

Sound bites oversimplify facts with information, which is facts in context, and fail to recognize the goal of wisdom, which is the ability to use information for good. Technologies create new terms, such as web page, email, FaceTime and “to google.” They also create new definitions of old terms through an insidious process: information, news, “friends,” truth. Technological competency has created new elites and hierarchies with their possibilities for abuse of power and truth.

In a Nov 10, 2015 talk to the Fifth National Convention of the Catholic Church in Italy, Pope Francis said:

We are not living in an epoch of change as much as a change of epochs….We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture.”(no.118) This would be a beautiful museum or concert but devoid of living faith.

Secular society not concerned with questions of meaning; not bothered by the God question; “exclusive humanism” without transcendence.

A U.S. political science study with broader implications studied their Church attending culture but rising number of “Nones” with no religious affiliation. They describe the secular world view with reliance on science and objective data; belief that only human experience and knowledge can make sense of reality and make ethical judgments; and human understanding should be based on logic and reason not authority, dogma or tradition. (Campbell et. al., 2021)

BUT religionist and secularist are not mutually exclusive for Catholics who believe science and reason are compatible with faith.

Lesson We need to create a new dialectic that integrates the Church’s Magisterial teaching with critically constructive theology and experience and science.

Key references

Gerald A. Arbuckle 2010 Culture, Inculturation and Theologians: A Postmodern Critique Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.

Gerald A. Arbuckle 2021 The Pandemic and the People of God: Cultural Impacts and Pastoral Responses Orbis Publications

David E. Campbell, Geoffrey C. Layman, John C. Green 2021, Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA

Michael Paul Gallagher, 2003, Clashing Cymbals: An Introduction to Faith and Culture, New York: Paulist Press.

McLuhan, M. & Q. Fiore, 1967The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. New York: Bantam Books.

James K.A. Smith 2014 Reading Charles Taylor How Not to Be Secular, William B. Erdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI

Charles Taylor 1991, The Malaise of Modernity. Anansi, Concord, ON.

From science

The Church must include lessons from science. The Church has not always been in conflict with science.

Models in history: conflict, contrast and convergence. (John F. Haught 2012 Science and Faith: A New Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ)

Francis 2015 Laudato Si:

Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications? (102)

At the same time we recognize risks from the scientific worldview which assumes that nature is the only reality and scientific methodology is the only way to know it. This rejects transcendence and all human knowledge be subjected to science. Religion is subjective, unprovable claims-is even dangerous.

Dialogue between Church/religion and science is a critical area for dialogue and discernment and for evangelization. …Vatican Observatory-God is found in the glory of creation . Gaileo confirmed the heliocentric view of the universe…condemned by the Roman Inquisition and under house arrest.

Pontifical Academy of Sciences fosters collaboration.

-Our knowledge of God

Christology needs renewal in light of evolution and the new cosmology. (Ilio Delia, 2011)The Incarnation continues in the community of believers. In the modern world the notion of the transcendent is being rejected. The new cosmology is incarnational and Trinitarian. The new cosmology offers insights into Jesus as the Christ.

Resurrection if the universal pattern for all creation made dramatic in Jesus (Richard Rohr, 2019) Science is helping us understand that life is not ended but merely changed.

-Advances in science and technology challenge the notion of normal and the natural and the notion of “natural law” morality.

 Medical and information technology; robotics, artificial intelligence, genetic technology. AI of concern to Francis transparency, inclusion, responsibility, impartiality, reliability, security and privacy.


Anthropology and our theology of sexuality and sexual morality

Jesus sexuality rare-woman taken in adultery testing him

“Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir” she replied.” “Neither do I condemn you, “ said Jesus “go away, and don’t sin anymore.” (Jn 8:10-11)

Pandemic abusive relations and ‘toxic masculinity’ in non-adherence to public health measures.

Pagan philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, adopted by Thomas Aquinas’ 13th century Summa Theologica, is not the kerygma. Church structures and relationships are bound to outdated metaphysical and philosophical beliefs regarding hierarchy, human nature, embodiment and gender. The body is inferior to the life of the spirit focusing on sexual sins.

Genesis creation as male and female “in God’s image”.

Binary affective, love and procreation. “Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure.” (CCC no 2362)

Marriage in God’s plan between a man and a woman is intended for procreation -“Each and every act must be open to procreation.” Matrimony is conferred by the two persons; the priest is a witness.

Last teaching 1986 ??? deeply flawed philosophy and anthropology of sexuality based on old science and a physicalist interpretation of natural law.


Sex and gender studies –Not a new issue. Pastoral rejection of anti-discrimination legislation.

Congregation for Education 2019 document, Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender in education rejects the notion of genders as “ideology” and ignores a century of research 

See CHAUS re compassionate care….for transgender children and their families.


The Church teaches that “Homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” (CCC, no. 2358). The experience of homosexual persons in the Church is quite different but gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” (2357 no. 2357.

It is not a choice. How can identity be a sin?

40% of priests are gay..?????celibacy; gay priests and Church teaching….tangled. nexus of gender, sex and power…..

Pope Francis has endorsed legal protection for gay couples in civil unions.

Homosexuality and query regarding the blessing of gay unions; answer “no” because a priest cannot “bless sin.” A priest can bless pets but not gay couples.

Francis famously said “Who am I to judge?”

Experience of LGBTQ persons in the Church is rejection and isolation which often compounds their family’s rejection. Hostility not hospitality, is a hallmark of Christian response.

Over 100 theologians and thousands of others objected to CDF decision –Reminiscent of the Humana vitae debacle-Conscience is crucial


Key References

Ilia Delo, 2011, The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholicism in an Evolutionary Universe, Orbis -Books, Maryknoll, NY.

Richard R. Rohr, 2019, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe, Convergent, NY.

Tina Beattie 2006 New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory Routledge, NY

Lisa Sowle Cahill, John Garvey and T. Frank Kennedy eds. 2006, Sexuality and the U.S. Catholic Church: Crisis and Renewal, Crossroad, NY.

Daniel P. Horan 20?? Catholicity and Emerging Personhood: A Contemporary Theological Anthropology Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY.

Aline Kalborn 2005 Sexing the Church: Gender, Power and Ethics in Contemporary Catholicism, Indiana University, Bloomington IN

Keiser, Doris M., Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2015.

Patrick, Anne E., Liberating Conscience: Feminist Explorations in Catholic Moral Theology. New York: Continuum, 1996.

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler, 2008, The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology, Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC.

Cristina L.H. Traina, 1999 Feminist Ethics and Natural Law: The End of the Anathemas Georgetown University Press, Washington D.C.

For Discernment
  • What are the key theological beliefs and practices in need of renewal to the mind of Christ?
  • What are the central organizational issues in need of reform consistent with beliefs and practices?