Saturday, October 12, 2013

Clarification on Where I Stand


I was asked recently about my stance on Pope Francis and the controversial second interview and whether I held the position that everything the Pope says or does is unquestionable.

This was cleared up in the conversation, but it struck me that perhaps others who read this blog might have similar questions about the position I hold. So, let's see if I can clarify where I stand.

Popes and Obligation

Not everything a Pope says is intended to be binding on the faithful. When he intends to teach, we are of course called to obedience. But when he speaks as a private theologian (for example, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his Jesus of Nazareth books), this is not a matter of binding teaching.

Now Pope Francis did not give his second interview with the intention of teaching the Church, so we are not obligated to see what he said as a new teaching that binds us. (This is the typical media error).

However, that doesn't mean we can write off these private theologian moments as holding the same level of truth as any idiot with a blog. The Pope is an educated theologian who has the good of the Church in mind.

So, in cases like this, we are obligated to assume good will on the part of the Pope, and not act like he is rejecting Church teaching. When statements are made which seem confusing or troubling to us, we need to try to consider who he is speaking to and what he is trying to say to the intended audience.

Above all, we need to show respect. Sometimes, when speaking as a private theologian or when intending to teach the Church, he speaks in a way which can be misunderstood. It is grossly disrespectful to presume he intends to teach contrary to what the Church holds, or to presume he is ignorant of Church teaching.

Popes and Options

Now, when the Pope intends to teach X, we cannot hold Not-X as a belief. However, when the Pope teaches X, there are different ways to carry out X. These ways must be in keeping with the moral teaching of the Church of course, but it does not mean all Catholics in a region are obligated to subscribe to a particular form of political platform (though, again, they cannot support a political platform that goes against Church teaching).

For example, Catholics are required to protect the sanctity of life. But that doesn't mean everyone is obligated to show up in front of abortion clinics.

So, when the Pope teaches us about caring to the poor, we are not free to be indifferent to them.  However, we are free to use different means to care for them which are compatible with the Church teaching.


Ultimately, when the Pope intends to teach the faithful, obedience is required, whether by ex cathedra or by the ordinary magisterium (see Humani generis #20). But when he speaks as a private theologian, respect is required, even if one should disagree with that which was said.

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