The phrase: The Church can change its teaching.
There are two ways to consider this question, which ambiguity has fueled a million newspaper articles: the sociological way and the theological way. I address the theological way yesterday, and said there are some things that can change about Church teaching and some things that cannot. Eating meat on Friday and clerical celibacy are not doctrines and they can change. That there are three Persons in God is doctrine and cannot. How we understand these Person should grow and in that sense we can talk about change, change as in growth and development of understanding. Okay, enough for that.
I define 'sociological way' this way: all religions and cultures can and have changed their beliefs in the past, therefore it is not impossible that the Catholic Church will or already has.
"And yet, you can stand there and tell me, Mr. Theologian, that it is physically impossible for a pope to say these words: 'Woman can become priests, God has four persons.'?"
Yes a pope can physically say those words. But he would not in an official capacity. I could picture John Paul II saying it in a mocking tone to Cardinal Ratzinger one day:
"Yes, Your Holiness?"
"Guess who was just here? Hans Kung."
"Oh ya, what'd he want?"
"Guess. 'Hey, Your Holiness,' he said, 'Woman can become priests, God has four persons...' "
"Oh man, what a dweeb."
There he physically said it.
So what's the theology behind supposing that something that is by definition possible will never happen?
The very same that defines the indefectibility of Christ, i.e. that a free being cannot sin. The power and goodness of God are truly free, which means that they never want to do other than what God wants them to do. People do bad things because they are un-free. Okay, so if you got that down, let's see how it applies to the Church and to the pope.
|Upon this rock. It's the only real point of the Church.|
God promised that the Church would never fall into error. Thus, he gave a gift to the Church that things would never get so bad that official teachings would veer off course. Does that interfere with human freedom? No, it fulfills it. God makes it impossible for the pope to officially teach error. It's a gift, very much like the gift He gives every Christian:
"God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." (1 Cor 10:13)
The special gift to the pope and the bishops in communion with him is not unlike His ordinary care for every believer. It doesn't undermine freedom; it is a gift to ensure it.
Therefore, the sociological perspective is incomplete. It cannot factor in God's promise.