Lending at interest. Condemned for centuries by popes and councils (Clement V; Lateran II, III, IV & V) as a sin against nature akin to sodomy (Dante, following Aquinas, put bankers alongside pederasts in Hell), usury was later redefined from “any interest” to “excessive interest.” That is not a minor tweak, but a fundamental change. To appreciate its significance, imagine a future pope redefining “contraception” to make room for its general use, withholding permission only when it was employed “abusively.” Pius VIII and Pius XII each allowed for lending at interest, and the Vatican runs its own bank, which charges interest.
Where does one begin with such a tissue of falsehoods? Just a few of the obvious problems here:
(1) The definition of usury was not 'any interest'. For one thing, the word 'interest' has at different times and places been of wider or narrower scope (failure to recognize this is one of the first signs of complete ignorance on this subject), and everyone recognized that there were legitimate cases in which someone might charge a fee on a loan, which would sometimes have been counted as part of the interest -- for instance, if even giving the loan was costing someone something. And all of the condemnations Zmirak explicitly mentions are contemporary with recognition of at least some distinction between interest derived from intrinsic title and interest derived from extrinsic title: it was only ever the former that was considered to be usury.
(2) Usury was never redefined to mean 'excessive interest' by Catholics; this is a Protestant redefinition. The definition of the sin of usury for Catholics is still precisely the same as it was at Fifth Lateran in the sixteenth century: when, from its use, a nonproductive thing is used for gain and profit without any work, any expense or any risk. Notice, incidentally, that the word 'interest' didn't even have to be used for the actual definition.
(3) Zmirak's potted history makes the worst of amateur mistakes when dealing with the history of thought: it assumes that things stayed the same while the ideas changed. In this case it is especially ridiculous, since starting in the High Middle Ages massive expansion in banking increased the kinds of available loan contracts far beyond what they had previously been. Assuming that loan contracts were exactly the same at the height of Renaissance banking in the Late Middle Ages as they were in the twelfth century is utterly absurd. What really happened is that an ever-increasing crowd of different kinds of loans grew up, including, famously and importantly for the subject, the loan contracts used by mons-pietatis foundations created for the poor, and it wasn't always clear that these new kinds of contract fit the old definitions. The Church indeed explicitly ruled that some of them did not, as in Benedict XIV's famous Vix pervenit. This does not mean that the old-style contracts that had originally been condemned stopped being condemned. This is a truly egregious error; moral theology, like ethics itself, has to deal with specific, contingent circumstances, which are legion and constantly changing. Failure to recognize this guarantees not only that one will get one's historical claims wrong, but also that one will get one's moral claims wrong.
(4) The Church still condemns usury; it's not all that difficult to find examples. Nor is this surprising, because moral theology is still beholden to Scripture, which condemns usury, and still respects the Church Fathers, who condemn usury, and still takes the major scholastics seriously, who condemned usury. Nor is it surprising from the purely ethical side, either, since making usury permissible causes serious problems for any attempt to have a coherent account of the justice of contracts. The provenance of the kind of argument he is making, though, is telling; it originally started as an argument by liberal Catholics, cribbed from Noonan and the like, for the conclusion that they could ignore certain parts of the Church's moral teaching because the Church's moral teaching changed over time. It was a bad argument then; there's no excuse whatsoever for it now.
This is the sort of junk Catholics too often have to wade through these days. And junk it is; all you have to do to see that is to read Fifth Lateran on usury and Vix pervenit, both of which are excellent contributions to moral theology, and then Zmirak, to see that the third of these things is junk. Nor is there the slightest doubt what Zmirak is about; he comes out straightforwardly with it: he wants to ignore the moral teaching of the Church whenever he finds it inconvenient to take seriously. Of course, what I really love about the article is the elaborate pretense that you either agree with him or you are taking the Church to be "sacramentally married to every assertion on economics and politics by any pope," whatever in the world such a lunatic position would actually mean. In reality, of course, we are talking about teaching, and teaching is multifaceted by its very nature; it requires a multifaceted response and self-cultivation on the part of the students -- which would be people like myself and other Catholics, including, yes, Zmirak, whether he wants to be the student of the Bishops or not -- not the simplistic dichotomy Zmirak is trying to peddle, which is an improvement over exactly nothing.