by Greg Krehbiel on 3 December 2013
I read yesterday that Rush Limbaugh has accused the pope of being a Marxist. I didn’t think too much of that until I read this.
It’s a very good article. It immediately reminded me of two other responses to past papal teachings.
Bill Buckley famously dissented from Pope John XXIII’s economic and political pronouncements, saying “Mater si, Magistra no” (which I believe is “mother yes, teacher no”). See Pope Francis takes on ‘trickle-down’ economics.
More recently in First Things, Robert Bork had some interesting comments about the church’s expertise with reference to the death penalty.
“My difficulty has to do with the Church adopting positions that may be taken to be binding on public affairs when it has no special, or sometimes even an adequate, understanding of the subject. If the Pope or the bishops express opinions on such matters, that is certainly their right. But they should be owed no particular deference, either by Catholics or others.”
I discussed that here.
Most of you know that the current “official” teaching is that the pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals — which almost never happens. Exactly when Catholics are supposed to defer to the pope’s opinions (whether or not they are infallible) is a much more complicated question.
It’s very interesting to listen to Catholics discuss that question. There’s a lot to it, but when it comes down to brass tacks it amounts to this: when the pope says something I like, you must defer to him. Otherwise not.
Years ago I did a relatively lengthy study of this issue. Part of that study involved reading a couple books full of documents on papal authority from back in the 10th to 13th centuries. Some were by the popes themselves, while others were by papal defenders. It was clear to me that the popes in those days thought their farts were infallible, and anybody spouting the modern teaching would have been treated as a heretic. (Sorry. Channeling dear Brother Martin for a moment there.)
Claims to papal infallibility and authority weakened a bit over the ensuing centuries, but I’m sure Pius IX (of “I am tradition” fame) would also have mocked and scorned the light-weight version of infallibility and authority we hear from the church today.
IOW, how much deference Catholics are supposed to pay to the pope has been on the decline for a thousand years or more, and isn’t very clear at all — even among people who try very hard to follow church teachings.
Anyway, I don’t know if Francis is a Marxist or not. The more relevant question is, “Why would it matter either way?”
And lest anybody think I’m just ragging on the pope, I’m not. I actually think there’s a lot to like about him. This, for example. Is Pope Francis Leaving Vatican At Night To Minister To Homeless?
-- 2013-12-03 » Greg Krehbiel