Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Pope's survey of Catholics
Teología Sin Censura Blog
November 20, 2013
As is known, traditionally minded Catholics are concerned, even frightened, because of the poll Pope Francis has put out so that we Catholics might say what we really think about the issues related to the family that have given the most to talk about in recent years. Some have said that the survey is only for the bishops. But no. To our knowledge, so far, those who can (and should) respond to the questions raised, are all of us.
Well, if the whole Church has the floor to say what it thinks about much debated issues (abortion, homosexuality, divorced people, separated people, etc., etc.), then the survey is more revolutionary than many can imagine. And it is, for a reason that surely few realize.
Let me explain. Many would like to have a pope who finally tells the Church with his infallible authority what to think and do about the above problems, and many others related to family life, sex .... Topics that are delicate, that preoccupy us so much and, above all, that are so very much discussed, so pointedly, and about which there are so many doubts that people are passionate about them. Well, why is the survey, directed at those of us who argue so much about such matters, so revolutionary?
The underlying problem is not the complexity of the issues raised by the survey. The problem has its roots in a much more complicated matter. What is at issue is not the answer that can - and should - be given to each one of these subjects. What it is going to put into question is the response that can - and should - be given to the limits of the Pope's authority to settle, through a dogmatic definition, what Catholics have to think, believe and live in matters that concern us so strongly. My question, after reading the survey, is as follows: If we follow the teaching of the highest magisterium of the Church, can we guarantee that the Pope has the authority and sacred power to define as "articles of faith" doctrines and ways of life about which there is no agreement among Catholics, but rather a diversity of doctrines and theories that have led to deep divisions, and even clashes, among Catholics themselves?
As is known, the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined in the First Vatican Council (1870). The Council's words were the following: "The Roman Pontiff .... possesses that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals."(H. Denzinger - P. Hünermann, No. 3074). Therefore, according to Vatican I, papal infallibility is the infallibility of the Church. Which means that the pope, when he makes a dogmatic definition, does not pronounce judgment as a private person, but sets out or defines the doctrine of the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church. So what the Pope has is "the charism of infallibility of the Church itself," as Vatican II said (LG, no. 25).
Therefore, the subject that possesses the power of infallibility is the Church. The pope has the charism of pronouncing that infallibility in specific cases and matters. Consequently, when the Church is divided -- and even in opposition -- on a particular topic, the Pope can not settle such a situation by making use of a dogmatic definition. To make an infallible definition, the pope has to have reasonable assurance that the subject of his definition is known in the Church and is accepted by the Church. This is why Pope Pius XII, prior to the definition about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (1950), asked all the bishops in the world whether in their churches this doctrine was accepted as doctrine revealed by God. And when he got an affirmative response from all, then he proceeded to make the dogmatic definition.
This being the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church, it's not enough that the Pope ends a dispute for us to talk about a definition. Nor is declaring a doctrinal judgment "final" a definition, properly speaking (G. Thils). As the official rapporteur of Vatican I, Msgr. Grasser, explained, "the pope is infallible only when, in his role as teacher of all Christians and thus representing the whole universal Church, he judges and defines what is be admitted or rejected by all." (Mansi 52, 1213 C) And it must be admitted or rejected as a matter of faith or truth. Everything else, and no matter how much the Pope says it, is (and will be) a matter of obedience. But, as is well known, matters that don't pass obedience -- in cases where the subject thinks in his conscience that he doesn't have to obey -- in such cases, he can (and even should) disobey. Because, as we know (from the lucid teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas ("Sum Theol." , 2-2, q.104, a.6; a.5), the ultimate judgment on the rightness of an act is the judgment of one's own conscience, not mere passive submission.
The consequence that follows from the above, is clear. The questions proposed by the Pope's survey on the family raise a number of issues on which there is no consensus in the Church, either theologically or from the scientific and historical point of view. They are what the experts call "disputatae quaestiones" (issues under discussion). In the Synod next October, will unanimous agreement be reached on such issues? It would be desirable. But it is not predictable. The consequence will be that doctrinal limits of papal power when settling a disputed doctrine will be patently clear. The Church's unity is not uniformity. Its unity is built on respect, tolerance, kindness and seeking the good of all. And therefore, unity happens (and will go on happening) from the diversity of opinions, behaviors and ways of life, provided that they are debatable within respect for the rights of others. If greater tolerance, more respect for those who think differently and live differently, is achieved through the survey and the Synod, the Church will have taken a decisive step towards unity as the Lord desired. And if, in addition to that, certain issues which now divide us or oppose us, are clarified then Pope Francis will have made a decisive contribution (one more) to the good of all of us.