— Arthur Johnson, Covington, Ky.
Answer: There is no formal Church teaching that requires Catholics to accept or reject the scientific theory of evolution, namely that more complex forms of life may have evolved from more basic forms of life.
However, there are some aspects related to evolutionary theory that tend to run afoul of certain Church and Scriptural teachings. First, many evolutionists insist upon a type of “blind evolution” wherein genetic mutations happen as completely random acts. This form of evolution rules out any intelligent or intentional cause behind the evolutionary process. Such an insistence runs contrary to Scripture’s assertion that God intelligently and intentionally creates all things and guides whatever evolution does take place.
To insist that evolution is an unguided process is actually a metaphysical claim. But physical sciences study only the physical world; they are not designed to study the metaphysical. Frankly, there’s a lot of evidence that things evolve in this world in an orderly, not-random way.
The second problem related to evolution is more technical and complex. It is the problem of polygenism versus monogenism. Polygenism emphasizes that human beings emerged from some group of hominids. Monogenism would hold that we all emerge from one set of parents (who the Bible names Adam and Eve). While Catholics are not absolutely forbidden from holding polygenism, the Vatican has warned over the years that it is difficult to square this teaching with the doctrine of original sin. That doctrine teaches that original sin comes from one man, Adam; not from a tribe of early human descendants of hominids who erred.
The bottom line of all this is that, while Catholics are free to accept or reject the fundamental scientific theory of evolution, we cannot accept the theory uncritically and with no distinctions at all.
Question: Can Catholics confess their sins directly to God, as non-Catholics do, to have their sins forgiven (even though it is not as efficacious as the sacrament)?
— A.F. Koselke,via email
Answer: When it comes to venial sins, Catholics are able to confess their sins directly to God. Mortal sins, however, require the sacrament. While it suffices to confess venial sins privately to God, Catholics are still encouraged to get to confession with some frequency, even if they are not aware of mortal sins. There are many salutary reasons for this. On the one hand, it instills a reflective discipline regarding sin. Being accountable to another person is also helpful. Alone, we are often too easy or too hard on ourselves. Ideally, most priests have training and experience that can help guide people in their moral reflection. Also, when we sin, we usually harm not only ourselves but also the community. And the priest represents not only God, but also the community of the Church.
Also, as you point out, the celebration of the sacraments are always more efficacious. The sacrament of confession grants absolution and the grace to avoid sin in the future, along with sanctifying grace.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.