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Inclusive Church, uncertain trumpet

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 28, 2022

Our Catholic World News report tells the story: New Synod document calls for a more inclusive Church. The problem, of course, is that the Catholic Church is already as inclusive as any organization for “believers” can actually be. A century ago, Anglicans who observed the incredible diversity of ethnicities and social backgrounds in the Catholic Church used to joke that she is the rather distressing Church of “here comes everybody.” Catholicism is already inclusive of all kinds of people—men, women, and children, no matter what their ethnicity, nationality, state in life, and position in society, no matter what their (moral) profession or job, and no matter what they have believed or done in the past.

If anyone commits to the Church as she is structured in accordance with her teachings, that person is warmly welcomed and eagerly included.

In other words, the only bar to entering the Church is refusing to accept what the Church is. Those who join themselves to her must recognize that she is the body and bride of Jesus Christ, and therefore must accept the reality of the graces she imparts, the Divine mandate of her constitutional structure, the truth of her doctrines, the validity of her sacramental ministry, and the authority she possesses to articulate without error the moral commands of Almighty God. The only impediments to a more inclusive Church, then, lie in the hearts and minds of those who reject her teachings. For example, consider those who are often regarded as somehow “excluded” from full participation in the Church:

  • Women have always been enthusiastically welcomed in the Church as long as they accept the Divinely constituted reality that Holy Orders are restricted to males, and therefore the Church’s priestly hierarchy must be male.
  • Those who are same-sex attracted have always been enthusiastically welcomed as long as they recognize that acting on this attraction is sinful, as is any other departure from chastity.
  • Those who are called to marriage have always been enthusiastically welcomed as long as they recognize that matrimony is a lifelong sacramental union between one man and one woman ordered to mutual love and the procreation of children, and that the Church alone has jurisdiction over this sacramental bond.

In other words, all are welcome to join the Catholic Church if they recognize and assent to what she claims to be, namely the sacramental presence and the juridical representative of Jesus Christ on earth. Anyone is welcome who wishes to participate more fully in Christ through an affirmation of His teachings and His grace, which He makes fully available only as the possession of that Church which is His Body and His Bride, until He comes again.

Anything besides this arises from a spirit of rebellion on the part of existing members who sinfully seek either to exclude those different from themselves or to affirm as Catholic those who, for whatever reason, wish to be welcomed and acknowledged without accepting what the Church is and what the Church teaches. In other words, a true understanding of the Church reveals that members who do not accept Catholic faith and morals are subject to correction and seekers who do not accept Catholic faith and morals are ineligible to join. This is not only very simple, but it applies to any organization which takes its own nature and purposes seriously. How much more, then, must it apply to an institution which claims to be established by the Living God?

Honest inclusion

The issue of exclusivity (that is, a lack of inclusivity) arises primarily under four conditions:

  1. Existing members of the Church are sinful in demanding more of her members or potential members than Christ Himself demands;
  2. Those outside the Church would like her better if she changed her teachings, or would gladly participate in Church life if by doing so they could push her to change her mission in accordance with their own worldly agendas;
  3. Assuming the church in a particular place is unhealthy, serious Catholics feel marginalized because Catholic leadership objects to a strong commitment to the truths of the Catholic Faith that challenges their own lack of commitment;
  4. Assuming the church in a particular place is healthy, those within the Church who disagree with her teachings feel marginalized because they are committed to ideas and lifestyles which are contrary to the Church’s very nature.

It ought to be perfectly clear that items 1, 2 and 3 are symtoms of spiritual disease, while item 4 is a symptom of spiritual health. Yet while the world agrees with this judgment as to item 1, it universally regards items 2 and 3 as healthy and item 4 as a spritual disease.

Except where Catholic priests and people are acting contrary to the demands of Christ. the Church rightly insists on a membership which recognizes her Christic character and therefore an exclusivity in accepting only those new members who either assent to the reality of what she is or are baptized into the body of Christ before they are old enough to form their own opinions (and this only on the promise of their being raised securely in the Faith). This latter case is a wonderful gift which, with a holy upbringing, keeps on giving. But of course the gift may in time be rejected, or formerly committed members may lose their Faith for other reasons, and even this can cause problems for the identity of the Church.

In other words, if that identity has been compromised by her adult members to the point at which those who reject her teachings can remain perfectly comfortable within her ranks, or new members can be accepted without assenting to her Christic identity and authority, then the Church can, in terms of her human experience, degenerate into a body characterized by the constant blare of uncertain trumpets, causing both increasing confusion and routine betrayal from within. The danger this poses to souls and the suffering it causes for those who strive to remain faithful are both frightening.

The obvious solution to all this is not to emphasize the mindless inclusion of all, which must reduce any institution to nothingness, but rather to emphasize the inclusion of all who wish to participate in the entirety of the Church’s nature, identity and mission.

Inclusion/exclusion or mission?

No organization with a purpose can afford to be in the business of the inclusion of those who reject its purpose. No organization with an identity can afford to include those who reject that identity. And no organization with a Divine commission can afford to include those who deny that commission. The contrary is a load of rhetorical codswallop which serves as a mask for the desire to change the organization to accommodate those who do not accept the purposes for which it was constituted.

This is precisely why the Church has a sacramentally distinctive missionary character. Each of her members is baptized as a priest, a prophet, and a king in order to proclaim the saving truths entrusted to the Church by Christ (prophet), to guide them into a life of fidelity to Christ (king), and to incorporate them into the ongoing work of the Body of Christ (priest). Whenever this missionary character is obscured or undermined by human weakness, we find that the mission falters.

Sometimes it falters through laziness, and sometimes through an unwillingness to preach the truth to those whom we suspect are predisposed to reject it (“This is a hard saying; who can accept it?” was the response of many to Jesus Christ, who said it anyway—Jn 6:60). At other times Christian mission is undermined by our own refusal to preach it truly and fully because we do not ourselves really wish to be associated with the truth. Consider what St. Paul had to say about that:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. [Gal 1:8-9]

And sometimes the mission falters because Catholics do not really want to bother with those they regard as unworthy of attention, so the Gospel is withheld, in effect, out of utter indifference to those who might receive it. But as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).

In everything, then, the Church in all her members is compelled by mission to preach the truth to all who have not yet received it. Of course, many potential missionaries are put off by embarrassment at preaching Christ, or fear of an adverse reaction to honest evangelization. The word has gone out through all the world that it is far nicer simply to welcome everyone regardless of what they believe and that, besides, any Catholic who claims a superior grasp of the truth is an unChristian blowhard. And yet, true to the spirit of the times, we assume that those who merely reflect the attitudes of the dominant culture must themselves be possessed of a superior grasp of the truth. After all, everybody who is anybody in the world attests to this constantly.

Tired of getting worldly grief?

And so the Church drifts into a self-defeating inclusivity, an inclusivity which destroys her identity, simply because her members are unwilling to witness to Christ. But here is news: The the apostles had to deal with this very problem in the early Christian communities, and in doing so they gave us a model.

In his first letter to the Church, St. Peter explained the proper attitude: “By obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves for a genuine love of your brothers; therefore, love one another constantly from the heart. Your rebirth has come, not from a destructible but from an indestructible seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22-23)

In accordance with this same belief, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to chastise that community for its sins: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (1 Cor 7:1)

And then in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained why he is not sorry he spoke honestly to them in the first: “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it…. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:8-10)

St. Paul also asked the Corinthians , “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor 14:8). We are in the midst of a synodal process which thrives on the indistinct. Very often it merely sugarcoats the complaints of those who do not accept the Gospel. Are not too many participants still full of that worldly grief which produces death?

Previous in series: The Case for Excommunication Today
Next in series: The Church: Mere exclusion, or inclusion through mission?

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: b_ulmen7713 - Nov. 01, 2022 9:36 AM ET USA

    Wonderful capture of the problem of D-E-I that permeates every aspect of public life these days. I'm still waiting for my local pastors to actually preach sin & repentance, but all we get are the "all are welcome" without the "upon repentance" clause. This directly causes folks to sin, support sin, and otherwise not recognize departure from authentic Catholic Teaching.