I know this will be controversial, so I'm going to ask for answers to remember that the scope of this question is not "Do they have the authority to change what is morally right or wrong", it's "does the Church TEACH that it has that authority?".

This is prompted by this article, which states:

Pope Francis realises that a number of the Church's strict teachings are at odds with the lives lived by many of the faithful in the developed world.

'There's a strong sense in which on this whole question of sexuality, marriage and family, the Church stands out against contemporary mores – and some people don't like to live in that tension,' Austen Ivereigh, a Catholic journalist and author of an upcoming book on Pope Francis, called The Great Reformer tells the Financial Times. 'But what conservative cardinals are saying is that if you concede ground on this, you are conceding to the culture, and that it is a slippery slope.'

Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a close ally of the Pope, has proposed allowing the divorced and remarried to take Holy Communion, something presently banned in the Church.

The Church does not recognise divorces dispensed by civil courts and thus regards people who have remarried as adulterers.

However, conservative Catholic officials are totally opposed to this move believing that it is a threat to the principle of the 'indissolubility' of marriage. U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Australia's Cardinal George Pell, the current Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and Germany's Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are all opposed to any change in who can take Communion.

"'indissolubility' of marriage" seems to be a moral central doctrinal principle.

The Catholic Church teaches that God is immutable.

So, the logic follows, if God never changes, it seems to follow that what God sees as right or wrong would never change, so is there a doctrine that allows the Church to say that something that's currently considered "wrong" at one point in time can be considered "right" at another?


2 Answers 2


As regards God's Laws, NO! as regards her laws, YES!

In each generation, the Church receives from the previous generation, preserves it intact, and passes onto the next generation depositum fidei1, the Sacred deposit of the faith that consists of Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition, entrusted to her by the Apostles to whom Jesus said in Matt 28:18-20:

18 [...] “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Can the Church err in what she teaches?
The Church cannot err in what she teaches as to faith or morals, for she is our infallible guide in both.2

1. cf. CCC 84 and APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION FIDEI DEPOSITUM | Pope St. John Paul II [the Great].
2. cf. Article 9 of Apostle's Creed | PENNY CATECHISM, 100.

Thus as regards teaching faith and morals, the Church teaches that she cannot err, and she cannot err because with the charism of infallibility Christ endowed her with, her mandate is to receive in each generation, the deposit of faith she received from the Apostles, keep it intact in that generation, teach it without error, and pass it on intact to the next generation.

The Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage and Worthy Reception of the Sacraments belong to this deposit of faith.

As part of the morals for a Catholic is that they are bound to obey the Church, because Christ has said to the pastors of the Church: 'Anyone who listens to you, listens to me: anyone who rejects you rejects me'. [Lk 10:16] One of the commandments of the Church is to keep Sundays and Holy days of Obligation holy, by hearing Mass and resting from servile works.3 What constitutes a Holy day of Obligation can change, the day of its keeping can move, and also it may not even be the same from country to country.

3. cf. Precepts of the Church | PENNY CATECHISM, 228 and 229 (1.).

Please note only the person who makes a law can change it, dispense with it, determine and adjust the penalty for its transgression, etc. no authority lower than they can do it.


  1. That doctrine cannot change is even affirmed by Cardinal Kasper. What he wants to do is [reaffirm] Catholic doctrine while offering pastoral overtures.

Cardinal Kasper’s proposals in favor of communion for divorced-and-remarried persons are an illustration of what we blame on the Council. In the talk that he gave to the cardinals during the Consistory on February 20th of this year, he proposed doing again what was done at the Council, namely: reaffirming Catholic doctrine while offering pastoral overtures. In his various interviews with journalists he harps on this distinction between doctrine and pastoral practice. He says that theoretically doctrine cannot change, but he introduces the notion that concretely, in reality, there are some situations in which the doctrine cannot be applied. Then, in his opinion, only a pastoral approach is capable of finding solutions… at the expense of doctrine. - cf. Interview: SSPX's Fellay Speaks on Meeting with Cardinal Müller - Kasper's consistently following Spirit of the Council to its logical end | RORATE CÆLI.

  1. Please note Doctrine = teaching.

  2. An example of a lower authority unable to amend a law cf. Pope St. John Paul II [the Great]'s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis - itself a doctrine - "The Church does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination." When asked about women ordination Pope Francis remarked that door is closed (because of Pope St. John Paul II). OP's commentary: That door was never open, actually, there was never even a door.

  3. For the Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage cf. CCC 1609 - 1617, CCC 1644 and 1645, and General Audience, Wednesday 5 September 1979 | Pope St. John Paul II.

  • Regarding Ecclesiastical law, which the Church can change, it defines what is licit and illicit (or lawful and unlawful) rather than what is right and wrong, which is the province of Divine Law. But other than this technicality, your answer is perfect.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 3:36

The selected answer was great, but they doesn't prevent another controversialist from submitting his 2¥.

When Bl. Pope Paul VI was about to make a decision on whether or not to allow Contraception in the Church and all his focus groups were pointing him towards embracing modernity, he wrote that:

the solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

The moral norms Pope Paul VI was talking about were those grounded in the natural law.

She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

and, if what I hear from Catholic sources (hopefully not wishful thinking) the only change that might come will be to make less painful the annulment process. And furthermore the Burke vs Kasper feud is probably less than it seems. It is not a liberal vs conservative feud as we like to see things, through the American macroscope. I don't presume to know what they're out to prove by writing books and forming alliances, but I know the secular media is wrong about the Catholic Church 98% of the time. The 2% being the section of the news paper where Mass times are reported.


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