Maybe you’re old enough to remember comedian Flip Wilson and his weekly variety TV program that aired for nearly four years in the early 1970s. One of the popular skits featured Wilson playing Rev. Leroy, pastor of “The Church of What’s Happening Now.”
Pia de Solenni, a moral theologian and a regular guest on my radio broadcast, often reminds listeners of Wilson and his Rev. Leroy number when discussing how some people envision the Catholic Church. They often talk about the Church needing to hop to it and get with the so-called “modern times.”
Of course, we’re talking about certain groups inside and outside of the Church who think the Church has to ordain women and do a total reversal on a number of other core Church teachings, including marriage, contraception and abortion.
The discussions are regularly followed by surveys that supposedly confirm how a majority of American Catholics are in agreement with these proposed changes. One recent example of this is the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which released a survey in mid-March claiming that 52 percent of American Catholics believe that Church leaders are out of touch with their members. The survey said that these Catholics believe the Church has to change on the top hot-button issues.
Some important points are left out of these discussions. First, those proposing and re-proposing the call for “modernization” either forget, don’t know or don’t want to know that the Church can’t change truth. The Church can’t change core beliefs. We can learn more about certain beliefs and teachings, but they don’t change.
Second, those who conduct the surveys, as well as those who parade them around as alleged evidence of what the Catholic Church must do to win more converts, aren’t being completely honest. There is a difference between those who practice the Faith regularly and those who simply identify as Catholic. Other surveys show Catholics who attend Mass regularly have more tendency to support Church teaching. This particular survey, for example, doesn’t give any indication of where these Catholics are in their faith journey. Do they attend Mass regularly?
And just how many Catholics are we talking about any way? This survey only involved 497 Catholics who were polled. And yet the survey headline on the Quinnipiac University site screamed a demand for change:
“American Catholics Support Same Sex Marriage, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Catholics Want New Direction from Next Pope.”
It seems that there is some sort of a belief that the Vatican is sitting around waiting for yet another poll from America to see what it will say or teach about this, that, and the other thing. As if that has an impact. Or that the cardinals will run into the papal apartment and tell the pope that the Church has to do what the Americans want.
As Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, explained in a Zenit News Agency article on the survey, truth isn’t determined by the latest poll.
“And while it is helpful to know what people say they think, what is right or wrong isn’t determined by a survey,” Brumley said.
One thing we can learn from these surveys is just how much more catechesis is needed to help Catholics and others understand the beauty of the teachings and the reasoning behind those teachings. Forget about the “Church of What’s Happening Now” and start by revisiting a beautiful verse in Hebrews 13:8:
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.