Is the Holy Spirit Still Guiding the Church?

Benedict XVI was Pope when my wife and I became Catholic, and he holds a dear place in our hearts, not only because he was our first Pope, but also because his clear and wise teaching helped guide us into the Church. We were sad when he left the papacy, but I trusted that God would continue to guide the Church through the next Pope.

Pope Francis is indeed a different kind of Pope, and although I understood why conservative Catholics were critical of him at the beginning, I thought it unfair and hasty. There is a broadness in the Catholic Church, although there are also definite boundaries. Pope Francis represents a different approach than did Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, but I trusted that the Holy Spirit, according to the doctrine of papal infallibility, would continue to guide the Church.

During the course of the two-part Synod on the Family, I heard lots of worries about those who were attempting to push practices such as communion for the divorced and remarried, or even acceptance of so-called “gay marriage”. I was not upset and did not expect any reversals of Catholic teaching because I believed the Holy Spirit was in control.

Now I will admit that I have been surprised at what has happened in the aftermath of Amoris laetitia, although I should not have been. I do not agree with those who are calling the Holy Father a heretic. I don’t think we have the right to make such a judgment of the Pope, but I also don’t think there is enough evidence to make such a judgment even if we did. However, there are priests and bishops who are taking rather extreme views that appear to me to go outside the boundaries of Catholic teaching.

I was especially displeased by this interview with Cardinal Blaise Cupich. He is proclaiming that Amoris laetitia has introduced a “paradigm shift” in the interpretation and application of Catholic doctrine. This paradigm shift is allowing priests and bishops to make teachings and policies that appear to violate Catholic doctrine while claiming that they are not changing Catholic doctrine. The Cardinal gave a lecture about this paradigm shift in Cambridge, England, and during the Q and A, Professor John Rist claimed this was an attempt to impose radical changes of doctrine on the Church. The Cardinal’s reply was, “Do we really believe that the Spirit is no longer guiding the Church?”

My reply to the Cardinal would be that I do believe that the Holy Spirit is still guiding the Church, but He is not guiding us to a paradigm shift that condones practices that are contrary to Church doctrine. Throughout the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has allowed heresy to temporarily gain a foothold, but there always remains a faithful remnant that holds onto the truth, and the truth eventually wins out. Indeed, it is through opposition to heresy that the doctrine of the Church develops and deepens.

Although many theologians have given good arguments against the paradigm shift, here are some additional reasons why I do not see the Holy Spirit as the source of this shift:

  1. The Holy Spirit came to “convince the world of sin” (John 16:8). The world without Christ is opposed to God, and before people can be saved, they must recognize their opposition, their sin, so that they can be reconciled and receive God’s mercy. Therefore, we should not be surprised when the teaching of the Church is at odds with prevailing ideas outside of the Church. However the paradigm shift is attempting to align the practice of the Church with the worldly trend of the breakdown of the family. It attempts to make what was previously called sinful to appear to be acceptable, but such a deception will only inhibit reconciliation.
  2. This paradigm shift is not coming forth as clear teaching of the Church’s Magisterium. It is buried in a footnote in the last chapter of a long document, the bulk of which is quite faithful to traditional teaching on marriage. It is as if there was an attempt to sneak this paradigm shift in. However, I believe that if the Holy Spirit were truly leading a paradigm shift, He would be doing so in a more straightforward manner. There should be a document that focuses on why we need a paradigm shift and how it is consistent with Church teaching. Such a document would be full of citations from Scripture and the tradition of the Church that support the shift.
  3. Opposition to the paradigm shift is being ignored, removed, and countered with evasive and manipulative responses. If this shift were truly a work of the Holy Spirit, such tactics would not be necessary. Instead, opposition would be boldly confronted with straightforward arguments, following the examples of Saints Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. However, when I read the Q and A responses given by Cardinal Cupich, I am struck by his uncanny ability to twist the words of the questioner and the teaching of the Church. I am reminded of the Green Witch in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Silver Chair, who through magic and cleverly twisted argument is almost successful in convincing the protagonists that the sun in the sky is an invention of their imagination. These diabolical tactics are not characteristic of the Holy Spirit.

So, I do believe that the Holy Spirit is still guiding the Church, but I believe He is guiding a faithful remnant in the Church to oppose these errors and hold on to the truth. Let us pray to God for wisdom, courage, and strength to remain faithful and proclaim the truth in love. Let us also ask for the intercession of Saints Athanasius, Augustine, and all those who have fought for the truth, and especially of our Blessed Mother, the Destroyer of All Heresies.