The Pope and the Precipice

It is not often that I quote the New York Times, but THIS is a good article (The Pope and the Precipice – by Ross Douthat) on the problem that is being faced, in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family that just concluded, and the Ordinary Synod on the Family that will take place next year.  Please read the whole article there.  I am going to quote a couple of passages that related to the infallibility of Church teachings, and how if you reverse an infallible teaching (or if you choose to ignore it!), it causes serious problems for the Church.  From the article:

TO grasp why events this month in Rome — publicly feuding cardinals, documents floated and then disavowed — were so remarkable in the context of modern Catholic history, it helps to understand certain practical aspects of the doctrine of papal infallibility.

On paper, that doctrine seems to grant extraordinary power to the pope — since he cannot err, the First Vatican Council declared in 1870, when he “defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.”

In practice, though, it places profound effective limits on his power.

Those limits are set, in part, by normal human modesty: “I am only infallible if I speak infallibly, but I shall never do that,” John XXIII is reported to have said. But they’re also set by the binding power of existing teaching, which a pope cannot reverse or contradict without proving his own office, well, fallible — effectively dynamiting the very claim to authority on which his decisions rest. [AC – Okay, this is important.  If the church can change her infallible teachings, then Her teaching were not infallible in the FIRST PLACE.  And there would be no reason to trust anything the Church says is true and false, because anything and everything would be open to change.  And then why be Catholic?  Why not choose an “easier” religion?]

Not surprisingly, then, popes are usually quite careful. On the two modern occasions when a pontiff defined a doctrine of the faith, it was on a subject — the holiness of the Virgin Mary — that few devout Catholics consider controversial. In the last era of major church reform, the Second Vatican Council, the popes were not the intellectual protagonists, and the council’s debates — while vigorous — were steered toward a (pope-approved) consensus: The documents that seemed most like developments in doctrine, on religious liberty and Judaism, passed with less than a hundred dissenting votes out of more than 2,300 cast.

But something very different is happening under Pope Francis. In his public words and gestures, through the men he’s elevated and the debates he’s encouraged, this pope has repeatedly signaled a desire to rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life — sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.

And in the synod on the family, which concluded a week ago in Rome, the prelates in charge of the proceedings — men handpicked by the pontiff — formally proposed such a rethinking, issuing a document that suggested both a general shift in the church’s attitude toward nonmarital relationships and a specific change, admitting the divorced-and-remarried to communion, that conflicts sharply with the church’s historic teaching on marriage’s indissolubility. [AC – Since the men that the Holy Father chose to run this, are the ones pushing a the changes, it is hard to believe His Holiness did not approve.  Also, his demoting Cardinal Raymond Burke from the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, to a much less important post of patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, makes it look like he is removing conservative opposition to what he is doing.  It… just does not look good…]

At which point there was a kind of chaos. Reports from inside the synod have a medieval feel — churchmen berating each other, accusations of manipulation flying, rebellions bubbling up. Outside Catholicism’s doors, the fault lines were laid bare: geographical (Germans versus Africans; Poles versus Italians), generational (a 1970s generation that seeks cultural accommodation and a younger, John Paul II-era that seeks to be countercultural) and theological above all.

And later on in the article:

But going beyond such a welcome to a kind of celebration of the virtues of nonmarital relationships generally, as the synod document seemed to do, might open a divide between formal teaching and real-world practice that’s too wide to be sustained. And on communion for the remarried, the stakes are not debatable at all. The Catholic Church was willing to lose the kingdom of England, and by extension the entire English-speaking world, over the principle that when a first marriage is valid a second is adulterous, a position rooted in the specific words of Jesus of Nazareth. To change on that issue, no matter how it was couched, would not be development; it would be contradiction and reversal.

Please pray for the Holy Father, Pope Francis.  I believe that the Holy Ghost will protect the Church from formally defining error – from calling good evil, or evil good.  But a lot of damage could and will be done, if the Church starts implementing “pastoral practice” that is in opposition to the Truth.  Most people are not theologians.  They believe what they see and hear and see practiced around them.  If the Church “seems” to approve of divorce and remarriage, or of other sexual sins, then the average-Joe Catholic is going to assume they are not sinful.  That would cause huge scandal.  And those that know their teachings, will realize the the Catholic Church has changed her teachings, in practice if not formally.

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