Even when one is an absolute monarch, it is best to bring the plenitude of one’s authority to bear only when necessary. This is quite clear to me as absolute lord of my computer.
Edward Peters on Popes making laws and then not feeling bound by them (which I first saw here):
Little point:Francis has appointed five more papal electors than Church law authorizes.
Large point: Antinomianism (ignorance of, disregard for, and sometimes contempt toward, law) is so pervasive in the Church (and in the State, for that matter) that almost no one notices it anymore.
Let’s back up:
Church law limits the number of cardinals eligible at any given time to vote for a Roman Pontiff to 120. See Universi Dominici gregis (1996) n. 33. Now, UDG (issued by John Paul II, following the example of Paul VI) is an “apostolic constitution”, the highest form of legislative document used in the Church, and its cap on electors is set out by a negative subjunctive (Maximus autem Cardinalium electorum numerous centum viginti ne excedat) which construction, as the Canon Law Society of America notes in the introduction to its 1999 English language translation of the Code, is regularly used by the Church to express straightforward commands and prohibitions…
Let me be clear: it does not make a fig’s worth of difference whether 120 or 125 cardinals vote in the next papal conclave, but it does make a fig’s worth of difference, I suggest, if yet another ecclesiastical rule, set out in a major legislative document using terminology indistinguishable from that which conveys many other considerably more important rules, is ignored because this leader or that doesn’t feel like abiding by it. We have processes to reform law in the Church; looking the other way isn’t one of them—at the very least, it’s a very dangerous way to change laws.
Antinomianism has been a long time spreading, and we are going to be a long, long time repairing the damage it has done to the Church (and the State). Where to start, then, except with the first step: recognizing that antinomianism is the default setting today. + + +
* Supposing, for a moment, that John Paul’s use of the subjunctive in this passage was merely hortatory (there are grammatical arguments for, and against, that interpretation), we would still have a problem: namely, popes deliberately using legislative documents to express wishes about how they might act in an important matter of ecclesiastical governance. Bad approach, that.
Much more serious is how cluttered Magisterial teaching is becoming. Example: we are now expecting an encyclical on climate change. Now, I suppose it’s possible that the Pope will limit himself to matters of faith and morals, but I doubt he will. There will surely be empirical statements and non-binding policy preferences (or else it couldn’t be about climate change specifically), and those statements will be made to all appearances in as formal and authoritative a way as anything a Pope has ever decreed.
If a Pope must share personal opinions and wishes to lay aside his Magisterial authority, he must make clear that this is what he is doing. Actually, it’s better not to do it at all. Fr. John Hunwicke on the inadvisability of Popes spouting off on their private opinions:
This piece appeared at the beginning of last July. I am repeating it because it approaches a problem which is still very much with us: witness the endearing remarks which our beloved Holy Father made in the airliner about how he would thump anybody who insulted his mother. In the present circumstances, I don’t see how any reasonable person could fail to see this as being at least a mitigation of the condemnation due to the Islamic terrorists who murdered the Paris Blasphemers. Yet again, Fr Lombardi went out afterwards to try to clear things up. It seems to me arguable that Popes should not make public statements which have not been vetted by the responsible dicastery of the Roman Curia. Because a Pope is not … or should not be … sharing his very interesting personal opinions (as I do in this blog). He should be reproving doctrinal error and strengthening us in doctrinal truth. And he is not enabled to do this by magic, but by a spirit-filled process of discernment in which his servants in the Roman Curia are indispensable assistants. He does not teach qua individual, but as the Bishop of Rome faithfully handing on the Tradition which the Roman and Petrine Church (pre-eminent and rock-like among all the Particular Churches in which the deposit of Faith has been handed down from the Apostles) has received.
The admirable Fr Zed sensibly and judiciously reminded us that much of what our beloved Holy Father says, and not least his daily fervorino, is ‘Non-Magisterial’. He is right. But I sense a problem starting to emerge here which will not go away. It is not totally new (it has been growing particularly since Popes started chatting to journalists in airliners), but it seems to me to get more acute as the decades pass.
The Pope’s remarks to the Latin American religious who went to see him were, I presume, very definitely non-Magisterial. They claimed he hinted rather heavily that they should not lose too much sleep about CDF interventions. But … those worthy religious who went half-way round the world to Rome did not do so because they have a private hobby of chatting to emeriti Argentinian bishops. They went to see, to question, to hear, the Pope qua Pope. And journalists who hear a Roman Pontiff speaking in an aeroplane are not ordinary airline passengers who find that chatting to some genial fellow-passenger relieves the boredom of the flight. They are specifically there to talk with, to listen to, to report the words of, the Pope qua Pope. And these journalists, for the main part, are not theological specialists in the status of papal utterances.
By the way, I actually kind of like the Pope better knowing he would sock somebody who insulted his mother. I know, I’m a bad Christian.
Even the Catechism is cluttered with things that don’t seem to be strictly speaking part of the deposit of faith. For example, in an early comment thread, ArkansasReactionary linked to the Catechism’s teaching on Just War. It includes banalities like this:
2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations;111 it thwarts the development of peoples.Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.
2317 Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars.
So, am I morally obliged, on pain of heresy, to believe that deterrence (and what other kind could there be that doesn’t involve accumulation of arms? Is accumulation of soldiers okay?) doesn’t avert war? Am I obliged to believe that economic inequality causes wars (and constantly does so)? Note that these statements are causal, not normative. A person who believed that arms accumulation is effective at deterring attacks but nevertheless immoral, or that economic inequality is wrong but stable, would still be held in error by the catechism. I’m not asking here whether or not the above statements are true. I’m asking whether it is possible to hold the Catholic faith while doubting them. If it is, then adding these claims makes the Catechism useless. We can say, as anyone with a sense of the Tradition knows, that one cannot hold the Catholic faith while denying the presence of Christ in the Eucharist or advocating for abortion, but we can’t just point to the catechism to prove it. It makes one wish they would release a real catechism with only the stuff that the Church really, seriously cannot change.
Filed under: The Dark and Terrible Springtime of Vatican II |