Fr. Z writes (February 20, 2015):
The inimitable Fr. Hunwicke has a good reminder at his fine blog HERE about papal authority (my [Fr. Z's] emphases):
Two points. Despite the anxieties entertained by the Intellectuals on both sides of this question … the Traditionalists and the Tablettentendenz … I see no grounds for panic. I see no practical likelihood whatsoever that anything will happen to put into doubt our duty, in our day-by-day Christian life, to adhere obediently to the judgements of the Roman Pontiff. But … let’s be honest … there have been in history occasions when Roman Pontiffs have wobbled in their adherence to orthodoxy …. Liberius and all that. In these circumstances, there does have to be a duty to resist that wobble and to decline to give effect to edicts purporting to enact the wobble. But here is the Red Line: at Vatican I, a great deal of historical work was done to ensure that the Decree on the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff was so worded as not to be vulnerable on such historical grounds. It is watertight. We can be sure that whatever a pope says ex cathedra is protected by the Holy Spirit from any error (but even here, we are not obliged to believe either that the decree concerned was necessary, or that it expressed things in the best of all possible ways). But it is not unknown for a papal decree which falls short of the ex cathedra status to be flawed. Of course, that cannot be a good position for the Church to be in. But it is not some sort of Ultimate Catastrophe! The Church survived Liberius! And so did the Papacy! And, to the end of time, both will survive!
t is very important to remember the limits of the Papal Magisterium. This is best done by a careful reading of the decree Pastor aeternus of Vatican I. That is the touchstone. Do not exaggerate, overestimate, what a pope can do, and then, when some pope or other goes a bit off the rails, or you think he has, start running around in a frantic fear that you have “lost your faith”. The pope is not an Absolute Monarch. B Pius IX made this very explicitly clear. Benedict XVI taught this with determined vigour. This is serious! The Pope is not some God-on-Earth who can never make a mistake! Not a few of them have made quite a lot. There is no reason why the same should not be true in the future. Learn not to fret! Learn to live with it, as so many Catholics in previous generations have done! And if you’re the sort of person who can laugh at it, laugh. In any case, sit yourself down comfortably, pour yourself a drink … and learn the following off by heart:
“The Holy Spirit was not promised to Peter’s successors so that they should, by His revelation, disclose new teaching, but so that, with His assistance, they should devoutly guard and faithfully set forth the revelation handed down through the apostles, the Deposit of Faith.”
Popes make mistakes. Popes are not infrequently wrong on a range of issues. There is nothing new in this.
[Hat tip to L.S.]