The Pope of the Catholic Church is not infallible. The papacy is. I understand this distinction. Spelled out, it goes like this: When the Holy Father speaks on faith and morals, he is speaking with the authority of Jesus Christ. That’s the parameter of his infallible authority. When he speaks on faith and morals, I listen. I obey. When the pope speaks on politics, scientific theory, or any other subject, I listen, but I am free to disagree, to disregard, and to choose to listen to those persons who actually do have authority in these areas. The pope does not.
I regret that our current Holy Father speaks so strongly on topics about which no one expects him to know any more than anyone else. As far as his popular image is concerned, I don’t really care what color shoes he wears, what sort of car he goes about in, or where he chooses to set up housekeeping. I’m not given to judging such gossip-like details. Far from being impressed, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
I regret he got involved in clandestine political machinations with President Obama, and not because I agree or disagree with either man’s opinions on the subject of American foreign policy, but I regret even more that he’s now chosen to write an encyclical about climate change. I won’t read it. I prefer to read opinions from those who are more qualified in the areas about which they speak. And I also regret he was not clear, right out there, up front, overt and specific, about the faith-and-morals teaching of the Church on issues like divorce and homosexual marriage.
St. John Paul the Great lived and operated under total political suppression. What made his life as a cardinal in communist Poland so extraordinary was his focus on his responsibility as a religious leader of his people. Eventually, that steadfast devotion to his duty helped to bring about the downfall of that suppression. He was never unclear or vague about faith and morals—quite the contrary—and he never touted his opinions on matters outside the faith.
Nothing is more seductive than flattery and applause, especially from a fickle and sensation-hungry press, and nothing is more fatal to our souls than vanity. Time spent alone on our knees, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are known to have done, can clear up a lot of confusion about what God’s will is, about what our responsibility is, even for the ordinary layperson. St. John Paul wrote every word of his encyclicals in the presence of Blessed Sacrament. But those encyclicals were about faith and morals. I suppose “encyclicals” on other subjects can be written anywhere, provided one wears shoes of a politically correct color.
Monday, January 05, 2015
Convert and novelist Dena Hunt expresses her profound disquiet over Pope Francis's upcoming encyclical on climate change, in "I Am Concerned" (Saint Austin Review, December 31, 2014):