In this engaging, easily read volume, Gregory Baum focuses appreciatively on several notable changes in official Church teachings that have been set forth in the documents of Vatican II and recent papal documents. Baum queries: “How can we explain the extraordinary evolution of the Church’s official teaching in regard to human rights, God’s redemptive presence in history, the preferential option for the poor, the culture of peace and the openness to religious pluralism?” He dedicates a chapter to each of these topics with a final chapter containing some methodological considerations on doctrinal change and responsible dissent. Each chapter follows the pattern: an exposition of the Church’s official teaching prior to the Council; the new official teaching found in the conciliar and papal documents; and theological reflections on these changes. Baum does not intend to give an exhaustive treatment of the teachings or how they came to be changed. He does cite amply from the appropriate documents. The exposition is enhanced with autobiographical vignettes that draw upon Baum’s distinguished career as a peritus with the Secretariat for Christian Unity at Vatican II and his theological ministry during the post-conciliar era. Indeed there is an element of personal testimony when he writes that new insights are only slowly assimilated. Throughout he calls attention to a new form of Catholic spirituality that he terms “le catholicisme solidaire,” six aspects of which he sketches in the conclusion. “Solidarity Catholicism” is rooted in the Church’s tradition and eschews simplistic “conservative-liberal” labelling.
Baum contends that the Church has changed, not simply developed, her official teachings and that these changes are the fruits of “the Church’s entry into the ethical horizon projected (and betrayed) by modernity.” For instance, he contends, like John T. Noonan, that the embrace of the principle of religious liberty at Vatican II did indeed reverse previous magisterial teaching. The conciliar minority, appalled that the Church would be contradicting a traditional teaching, staunchly opposed the Declaration on Religious Liberty. The Magisterium did change its teaching, after a period of conflict and repression, because the passing from one ethical horizon to another stimulated a new reading of the Scriptures and the church’s tradition. Modernity’s positive fruits of freedom, equality, and participation were also appropriated in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. However, Baum does not hesitate to indicate modernity’s sinister side, especially its betrayal of human solidarity. Thus in the debate over the legacy of modernity and its impact on the Church, Baum applauds the capacity of the “amazing” Church to appropriate discriminatingly what is true and good in modern culture.
Can the Church admit that she has changed her mind? John Courtney Murray maintained that the underlying issue at the Second Vatican Council was the development of doctrine. Pace Joseph Ratzinger, Baum is inclined to view some changes in the Church’s official teachings as examples of “discontinuity.” When he was a student at the University of Fribourg in the 1950’s, he recalls being alarmed by a young woman affiliated with Pax Romana who argued that the popes were wrong in their rejection of religious liberty. Baum came to recognize the necessity of responsible, respectful dissent from official Church teaching in certain circumstances. He names three issues that the hierarchical Church has so far refused to review: the Church’s authoritarian centralism, what the equality of men and women means in the light of God’s revelation, and the Church’s refusal to allow Catholics in their various cultures to review the meaning of sexuality in the light of their faith.
I recommend this book as a secondary text in college courses dealing with modern Catholic social teaching, the Second Vatican Council, and contemporary Catholicism. There are endnotes, but no bibliography and no index.