Explanations versus Authority in the Church

It has become common today, in discussions of doctrine and discipline, to oppose decisions of Church authority, particularly by the Apostolic See or Roman Pontiff, with explanations as to why the decision, whether doctrinal or disciplinary, is wrong. The internet and various Catholic (or allegedly Catholic) publications are filled with such explanations.

While the non-infallible teachings and non-infallible decisions on discipline of the Apostolic See can err to a limited extent, such decisions cannot err gravely. The indefectibility of the Church and the charisms given by Christ to Peter and his successors absolutely guarantee that the Church will never go astray or lead astray, and that every valid Roman Pontiff — even Pope Vigilius — will have the charism of truth and never-failing faith. This charism keeps every Pope from failing in faith by apostasy, heresy, schism, idolatry, etc. and also keeps every Pope from grave errors against truth. In teaching under the Magisterium, and even in matters of discipline, the Pope enjoys divine assistance, as he is exercising the Keys of Saint Peter, which is the authority of Christ.

Explanations as to why the Roman Pontiff may have erred in doctrine or discipline, to be faithful, must admit this hard limit to the sheer possibility of error. And those who constantly oppose decision after decision of the Pope under the Keys are causing scandal to the faithful. For they present the impression publicly that the Pope is often wrong. And such frequent explanations, against the authoritative decisions of the Pope on doctrine and discipline, suggest that the person presenting these explanations cannot err gravely.

This is the pride-filled premise so often present in online articles against Pope Francis — that those who argue against him can’t possibly err gravely. For they have such seemingly excellent explanations! Again and again, when faced with authoritative (and let’s say, in this case, non-infallible) decisions on doctrine or discipline from the Roman Pontiff, they oppose his authority with their explanations and those of others who think as they do. They seem to be saying: “How can we be wrong when our explanations are so wonderful? Here it is again! The Pope must be wrong, because we have explained it so well!” That is truly their attitude.

But I have this to say to them: “Where is your faith?” The first disciples of Christ followed Him in faith, and not because His explanations were excellent (which they were, of course). Those disciples who did not follow by faith, they fell away:

{6:60} He said these things when he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
{6:61} Therefore, many of his disciples, upon hearing this, said: “This saying is difficult,” and, “Who is able to listen to it?”
{6:62} But Jesus, knowing within himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: “Does this offend you?
{6:63} Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?
{6:64} It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh does not offer anything of benefit. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
{6:65} But there are some among you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were unbelieving and which one would betray him.
{6:66} And so he said, “For this reason, I said to you that no one is able to come to me, unless it has been given to him by my Father.”
{6:67} After this, many of his disciples went back, and they no longer walked with him.

It is possible for a faithful Catholic to disagree with a non-infallible decision of the Roman Pontiff or the Apostolic See on a matter of doctrine or discipline. A theological explanation might support such a disagreement. But those who constantly subject every authoritative decision of the Apostolic See to their own judgment, only accepting those teachings which accord with their own minds, are not exercising the theological virtue of faith.

If you only accept what you own mind finds to be correct, then you have no faith at all. You are no better than an atheist. For even an atheist will accept those things Jesus taught which agree with his own mind.

Accept the decisions of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic See on doctrine and discipline; accept these with faith. And then subsequently, you might licitly disagree, mildly and charitably, with one or another non-infallible decision. Those who loudly constantly disagree, or who subject every decision to their own self-exalting judgment, do not disagree licitly or faithfully.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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1 Response to Explanations versus Authority in the Church

  1. Sunimal Fernando says:

    This week major earthquake predicted.

    I think we are living in the middle of 7 Year period, first and second part of tribulation, that is just before Antichrist appears.

    Pope 10th year anniversary on 13th? Spain, San Sebastian de Garbandal warning, when?

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