Francis, Pope. More Infallible Than He There Is None
He displays a willingness to reconsider the dogma of infallibility. But in reality he is vesting full power in himself much more than his immediate predecessors did. And he is acting as an absolute monarch
by Sandro Magister
ROME, May 9, 2016 – There was an uproar in recent days over the announcement by the theologian Hans Küng that Pope Francis has given an effective green light to “an unrestricted discussion of the dogma of infallibility”:
But curiously, to the contrary of what one might have expected, Küng did not make public the letter that the pope wrote to him in response to one of his previous appeals. He only described it. Perhaps because the letter was not as affirmative as he would like to have believed.
Francis, in fact, turns out to be anything but a pushover when he asserts his papal authority as “supreme, full, immediate, and universal,” both in governing and in teaching.
On the contrary, he is certainly the pontiff who over the past half century has exalted more than any other this supreme authority, not only over the Catholic Church but over all of Christendom, citing in support of this none other than the 1870 dogmatic constitution “Pastor Aeternus” of Vatican Council I, which proclaimed the pope’s infallibility “ex cathedra.”
But first things first.
Küng’s appeal to Pope Francis came out simultaneously in multiple languages last March 9 in various newspapers around the world, for example in Italy in “la Repubblica,” the country’s most important secular and progressive newspaper, ultra-Bergoglian:
> Aboliamo l’infallibilità del papa
No surprise there. Küng has spent a lifetime trying to demolish the dogma of papal infallibility. The process that concluded in 1979 with the revocation of his license to teach Catholic theology was prompted by two of his books from about ten years before, entitled: “The Church” and “Infallible? A Question.”
And it was the whole body of essays that he has written on the topic, collected in the fifth volume of his complete works being published this year in Germany, which provided the cue for him to ask Pope Francis publicly for the opening of “a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion in our church of the all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma.”
Küng sent the appeal personally to the pope by letter, in Spanish. And shortly after Easter he received at his home in Tübingen, through the nunciature in Berlin, the letter in reply, dated March 20.
The pope’s letter began with a friendly “Lieber Mitbruder,” dear brother, and was written by hand. But these remain the only words cited by Küng in quotation marks in reporting the content of the missive. It is unclear to what extent the rest of it might correspond to the narrative presented by the theologian.
Because it is true that Pope Francis can be relied on to issue exhortations to discuss everything, even the most delicate topics. But it is also his established habit to alternate these “openings” of his with reaffirmations of traditional doctrine, with that continual and never definitive “stop and go” which characterizes his magisterium.
On the dogma of infallibility, however, there is no comparison between his feeble and hesitant support for the reconsideration of the dogma on the one hand and on the other the powerful, thundering proclamation of his own supreme authority that he has made more than once, and always on occasions of great significance.
The key occasions have been two in particular.
The first was the closing speech for the turbulent first session of the synod on the family, October 14, 2014:
Visibly irritated over the development of the synod, far below his reformist expectations, Pope Francis made it clear to the bishops and cardinals that in any case the last word would rest with him, as “supreme pastor and teacher of the faithful,” endowed with “supreme, full, immediate, and universal authority.” Both of these formulations are taken from the code of canon law, precisely that juridical structure of the Church which he doesn’t like but which this time he found it convenient to lean on.
To avoid any misunderstanding, Francis also reiterated to the synod fathers that “the synod takes place ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’,” not only “with” but also “under” the successor of Peter.
The second key occasion was one year later, halfway through the second session of the synod on the family, this too a disappointment for him:
> “As the Ordinary General Assembly…”
It was October 17, 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the synod of bishops, and the commemoration gave the pope his cue to describe the dynamics of a synod this way:
“The Synod process begins by listening to the people of God. [. . .] It then continues by listening to the pastors. [. . .] The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as ‘pastor and teacher of all Christians’.”
Attention. Here Francis did not cite again, as he did a year before, canon 749 of the code of canon law, which proclaims the authority of the pope over the “christifideles,” meaning the “faithful” belonging to the Catholic Church.
This time he took the citation from the dogmatic constitution “Pastor Aeternus” of Vatican Council I, in which the authority of the pope is extended to “all Christians,” meaning in theory also to Protestants, Orthodox, Evangelicals, to the whole sphere of the baptized called to make their way back to the one Church.
And that of the pope is an authority as “pastor” and also as “teacher” which, in the same paragraph of “Pastor Aeternus,” is proclaimed as “infallible,” specifying in what sense and within what limits. Immediately followed by the “anathema sit” typical of every dogmatic definition:
“If anyone therefore may have the presumption to oppose, God forbid, this definition of ours: let him be anathema.”
It must be noted that Vatican Council II as well, in the dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium,” at no. 25, in reaffirming the pope’s “supreme and full power over the universal Church” and his “infallibility . . . as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful,” also cites “Pastor Aeternus” of Vatican Council I, the bane of Küng and his ilk:
> Lumen gentium
But it stops one step short of what Francis has instead done, extending the pope’s infallible magisterium not only to the Catholic faithful but to “all Christians.”
In his speech of October 17, 2015 Francis then continued by insisting on the “sub Petro” with even more vigor than he did the year before:
“The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro — indeed, not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro — is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity.”
And it can be presumed that he already had in mind what he would write in the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Lætitia,” availing himself of his own supreme authority in order to proceed well beyond where the synod was prepared to go.
In the Latin text of “Pastor Aeternus” as presented in “Denzinger,” the citation made by Pope Francis in the speech of October 17, 2015 is taken from paragraph 3074, the one in which the pope’s infallibility “ex cathedra” is defined:
The February 15, 1975 declaration of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith concerning the books by Hans Küng “The Church” and “Infallible? A Question”:
The previous declaration of June 24, 1973 in defense of the dogma of infallibility brought into question by Küng, who however is not named in it:
> Mysterium Ecclesiae
And the declaration of December 15, 1979 in which Küng’s license to teach as a Catholic theologian is revoked:
In presenting last May 3 in Madrid, at the Universidad Francisco de Victoria, his latest book “Informe sobre la esperanza,” Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, forcefully criticized Küng’s attacks against the dogma of infallibility:
Infallibility, Müller said, is the “treasure and essence of Catholic ecclesiology.” So Küng “cannot say that he feels justified by the pope.”
“Neither his Christology nor his ecclesiology is Catholic,” the cardinal added. Küng “does not believe in the divinity of Christ and in the Most Holy Trinity.”
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.