Saturday, April 21, 2018

Gerald Slevin on Pius IX and the Doctrine of Infallibility: Pope Francis Can Make the Church Great Again by Eliminating the "Infallibility Trap"

Earlier today, I linked to a very fine statement by Irish lay Catholic Ursula Halligan in response to recent comments by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Ireland. Archbishop Martin notes that the Catholic community has difficulty welcoming people who do not live up to its ideals — notably, LGBTQ people. In response, Ursula Halligan asks Archbishop Martin,

Is it any wonder that the church struggles to find a language to relate to us when the language it already uses is so vile? 

The Catholic hierarchy has, Halligan implies, locked itself into quite the trap by choosing to state that LGBTQ people and their relationships are "intrinsically disordered" and their love is "instrinsically evil." The problem that results from this trap is that nothing at all Catholic prelates and pastors now say about being "welcoming" makes any sense at all to people defined in this stigmatizing way.

The solution: obviously, for the magisterium to admit that it is wrong, has been wrong about some fundamental tenets of its sexual ethical teaching. This is a point I made a few days ago in response to comments of Cardinal Joseph Tobin that are similar to those of Arcbishop Martin: Cardinal Tobin calls for the Catholic hierarchy to listen more respectfully to LGBTQ persons, and at the same time states, "The church cannot reverse itself on its sexual ethics."

As I noted, "You can't call for listening respectfully to the laity about LGBTQ issues and then, in the same breath, say that the church cannot reverse itself on sexual ethics. The latter statement nullifies the former."

Now I'd like to point you to an excellent statement by Gerald T. Slevin regarding John W. O'Malley's new book Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2018). Jerry's review, entitled "Pope Francis Can Make the Church Great Again! He Can Eliminate the 'Infallibility Trap'!!," is on the Amazon page for John O'Malley's book.

In a nutshell, Jerry argues (and he's very right about this, I think) that Pope Pius IX placed the Catholic institution in quite the lethal trap when he chose to pressure the enclave of cardinals at Vatican I to declare popes infallible (under discrete conditions — but that distinction is usually lost sight of by those who want to treat everything popes say about select issues as infallible). This was, frankly, a power play on the part of Pius, and it is one that has lamentable consequences in the history of the Roman church up to now — not the least of them Paul VI's timidity about admitting that the ban on artificial contraception was simply wrong, when the theological commission he called together to advise him about this matter urged him to take that step.

Jerry thinks that one of the most effective things Pope Francis could do for the church is to declare infallibly that the doctrine of infallibility was a wrong step on the part of the papacy — and have done with that doctrine once and for all. This would be in keeping with Francis' Jesuit identity, Jerry thinks, since the Jesuits played a key role in salvaging the Catholic church during the Reformation.

Here's a lengthy excerpt from a much longer statement. I'm sharing it with you in the hope that you might read the entire essay — it's valuable:

Nothing, in my view, in the last 150 years has done more harm to the Catholic Church and to the billions of people that popes have influenced, and still influence, than the naked power grab in 1870 and thereafter by desperate popes and their entrenched cliques. This power push has been effected largely by means of the counterproductive, and even blasphemous, claim that popes are infallible, i.e., "wielders of divine power". 
An infallible leader always trumps a fallible leader, so the papal logic goes! Really??? 
Ironically, "infallibility status" has mostly weakened, not strengthened popes, and will continue to do so until it is eliminated by a pope and/or a worldwide council. This status has also caused great harm to the Catholic Church and the world in the process!! 
For God's sake, let's be honest! To err is human. All mortals, including popes, at times make mistakes in everything. History and everyday human experience prove that. 
Indeed, we see in this highly regarded Jesuit historian's outstanding book, Pope Pius IX leading, if not dragging, his resisting cardinals and bishops into the "infallibility trap"-- a hugely consequential mistake going to the heart of "faith and morals" teaching. 
Pius IX ambitiously, arrogantly and foolishly thought he could compensate for the imminent and permanent loss in Italy in 1870 of nearly 1,500 years of almost continuous papal political power by claiming for himself and his successors a uniquely divine power, i.e., freedom from error on "faith and moral" matters. The best proof of Pius XI's fundamental error was the "infallibility trap" he created for himself and all his successors. 
This fallacious trap has so far contributed often to preventing popes from making much needed changes to earlier mistaken papal positions on "faith and morals", including on a respectful reconciliation with other Christian and Orthodox churches, on the election of independent bishops by everyday Catholics, on respecting women's necessary reproductive rights, on expanding opportunities for married and woman priests, on protecting defenseless children from clerical sexual predators, on honoring homosexual marriage and, yes, on declaring papal fallibility. Failures to make these changes have harmed many, many people, hardly what Jesus intended his followers to do! 
So, for example, Pope Paul VI in 1968 was trapped into endorsing Pope Pius XI's mistaken 1930 decision condemning birth control. Pius XI unwisely sought in 1930 to increase by papal fiat the declining post-World War I population in Western Europe in the face of a growing threat of atheistic Soviet power that he justifiably feared greatly. He, in effect, ordered Catholics and those controlled by Catholic leaders to produce more babies --- a population policy then helpful to Pope Pius XI's occasional political collaborator, Mussolini, and a few years later to Hitler, both opportunistic opponents of Soviet Communists. 
If Pope Paul VI in 1968 had, only 38 years after Pope Pius XI's erroneous 1930 decision, followed his own competent papal commission's theologically and biblically defensible and strong endorsement of "post pill" birth control, he would have risked fatally undercutting the already nearly indefensible papal claim to infallibility. 
The critical needs of millions of families for a sustainable family size were shamefully less important to the pope and his entrenched Vatican clique than preserving papal power, it appears. This travesty has been well documented by an ex-Jesuit and award winning journalist, Robert Blair Kaiser, in his excellent and freely accessible online e-book, "The Politics of Sex and Religion". 
Yes, Pope Paul VI was trapped by the erroneous position on papal infallibility crammed down cardinals' and bishops' throats in 1870, as John O'Malley has so thoroughly and objectively described in this important new book. So Pope Paul VI took the easy way out, as all popes have since 1870. He unwisely put papal power preservation ahead of the truth and of the interests of families! Pope Francis must now do the Jesuit thing and put biblical, theological and scientific truth and family needs and sustainability ahead of papal power politics --- once and for all.

The photo of the cover of John O'Malley's book is from its Amazon page linked above.

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