Tuesday, February 22, 2011

tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam


this is a mini replica of the actual one at the Basilica of San Pietro

There is one aspect of Roman Catholicism that unites believers and divides unbelievers alike. It is not the BVM nor the Blessed Sacrament, while those would have been logical guesses to be sure. No, the epicenter of unity and division is the Papacy. The Roman Pontiff (a.k.a., Holy Father, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Supreme Head of the Church, Servant of the Servants of God, etc.) in both his infallibility and primacy personify what Christ said in Matthew 16:18-19

And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Whether it is denying infallible papal teaching authority OR disobeying supreme papal governing authority, both are an attack on the ROCK upon which Christ built HIS Church. Vatican I made it quite clear that infallibility is restricted to matters of faith and morals but primacy extends everywhere. The pope's jurisdiction is limitless when it comes to shepherding the sheep. Though not impeccable and not inspired (restricting that charism to sacred authors of the Bible), the Roman Pontiff, nevertheless, has FULL, SUPREME, IMMEDIATE and UNIVERSAL authority to govern the Church. (CCC #882, 937; CIC #331)

Here is the crux of the issue. In his non-infallible capacity as Supreme Head, there is obviously the possibility of poor if not even bad prudential judgment as well as good ones. Furthermore, the pope's authority does not mean his decisions are de facto the best for that time and place. Yet, there is NO HIGHER AUTHORITY. No Ecumenical Council, no emperor or king, no conference of bishops, not even the entire faithful as a whole have the power to depose a pope. There are only two ways to get rid of a bad or incompetent pope: persuade him to voluntarily RESIGN or pray that the good Lord bless him with a happy and SWIFT DEATH.

Deo Gratias, of the 266 popes, only a dozen at most turned out to be scandalous and corrupt abusers of their office. The majority have been adequate to outright outstanding, with a substantial number even being canonized as saints.

When I hear a Catholic second guess and papal decree, whether of the past or present, I am greatly disappointed. While I personally may disagree with the prudential judgments of the pope, if it concerns faith and morals, even though not intended to be infallible, I must still give religious submission of intellect and will. RESPECT demands that even the papal decisions on matters NOT of faith and morals be treated with respect. Hence, I may personally disagree but I keep it to myself rather than incite opposition. If a pontiff is acting immorally or grossly imprudent, then individuals can address him discreetly and respectfully, just as an adult child would their own biological father. Shaming or humiliating him is not a viable option. Saint Catherine of Siena was able to convince Pope Gregory to leave Avignon, France and return to Rome but she did so not by having press conferences and embarrassing the pontiff. She met with him and spoke to him in person. Today, some are content to attack the pope on their blogs or in their print articles or on radio or television.

I have heard both sides attack the pope. Liberal dissidents attacked Pope JP2 when he canonized Msgr. Josemaria Escriva. Ultra-traditionalists have repudiated the upcoming beatification of Pope JP2 by Pope Benedict XVI and openly disavow his possible canonization. In both cases you have examples of heresy. Papal infallibility is invoked in every papal canonization. It was not always the case in the ancient church when acclamation was the norm. But for recent centuries only the Pope canonizes. Some cases of beatification and canonization may have been sped up and others slowed down. Does not matter. When the final decision is made to canonize, the Pope declares that person IS in heaven. He does not canonize everyone in heaven and heaven is not populated only by the canonized, but canonized saints are REAL and they are IN HEAVEN. So, if and when Pope John Paul II gets canonized by one of his successors, no one has the competency to deny or reject it. PERIOD. Same applies if any other Pope is subsequently canonized, like Pius XII, Paul VI, etc.  If two post mortem miracles occur via their intercession, how can anyone cry foul?  The final decision is the Pope's. Likewise, what language the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, which direction, etc., are all part of the Pope's PRIMACY.  Some liturgical decisions may not be the most prudent and they are not infallible but they are FINAL as long as the current pontiff reigns.

It is irksome that some on the far left and some on the far right consider themselves more Catholic than the pope. Even a bad pope is still a valid and licit pope. His authority is not ex opere operantis but from his office. You and I may have made different prudential judgments had we been pope, but that is all theoretical and hypothetical. Only the actual pope has real authority. You do not have to like any particular pope but we must obey each and every one of them. All deserve respect and obedience. Easy to obey the authority of someone you like and agree with, but ask any soldier, sailor, airman or coast guardsman: how easy is it to obey the officer you dislike or disagree with? Unless it is an immoral (and thus illegal) command which I can and must disregard, then all other legitimate orders must be adhered to all the way.

When Pope John Paul II issued ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS, it was an example of Ordinary papal Magisterium (as opposed to Extraordinary, i.e., ex cathedra) and as then Cardinal Ratzinger explained, it contained INFALLIBLE TEACHING that only baptized males can be ordained.  Those who dissent from this are in the same league as those who dissent from HUMANAE VITAE.  Papal teaching on contraception and the ordination of women are doctrinal and they involve the MAGISTERIUM.  Other issues like altar girls and Communion in the hand are non-doctrinal but disciplinary. One does not have to like the decisions but we must abide by them until rescinded by another pope. It is not unlike the relationship with my Dad. I did not always like or agree with every opinion and decision of his, but I was the son and he was the father and head of the family, so guess who had to be obeyed and respected? Some may call it a form of Ultramontanism.  I call it CATHOLICISM. Jesus gave the KEYS to Peter. Not the entire Twelve and not even his beloved best friend, John. Peter alone was given the keys. Those symbolize the keys to the royal treasury where the king's gold is both protected and dispensed and the key to the royal prison to incarcerate the king's enemies and to release prisoners. Those keys were given to the Prime Minister. He acts in the name of the monarch and by his authority. Likewise, the keys entrusted to Saint Peter, to lock and unlock (bind and loose) are vehicles of Divine
Divine Justice and Mercy. The keys on the papal flag and seal have more significance than the triple tiara. Both however symbolize the fullness of papal authority to teach, to govern and to sanctify.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, it is important to remember the value of the cathedra, the chair. When Pontius Pilate sat on the chair, he represented Caesar.  When he stood, he was a private citizen. The chair is a sign of authority and Catholics must recall that the Church is not like secular governments that have parliaments or congresses. The supreme executive, legislative and judicial authority is the Bishop of Rome and he delegates authority to his subordinates accordingly. There is no such thing as loyal opposition, shadow governments or vote of no confidence. The Church Hierarchy is a chain of command and the government of the Church resides with the Pope who is assisted by the bishops in union WITH him. If a bishop severs his unity with the Successor of Saint Peter, then that Bishop has cut himself off from the Mystical Body of Christ. He is still a valid bishop but he has no more authority to govern or teach. Sadly, we have many priests, deacons, religious and professional theologians who make themselves 'pope' and pretend as if the Body has not been harmed by this serious self-inflicted wound.


(where Peter is, there is the Church)

Protestant Reformers did not like it and neither do contemporary dissidents, heretics, apostates and schismatics. Stay with Peter and you stay with the Church, the Bride of Christ. When Pope Benedict XVI visited England, it was not just the sovereign of Vatican City who crossed the Channel but the Vicar of Christ on Earth and the Visible Head of the Catholic Church. Peter came to Great Britain as he did to the United States. No matter who the occupant of the Chair may be, while he is there, he is our leader, our shepherd, our Holy Father.




Catherine said...

Dear Father

I enjoyed reading your post and like the way you explained this topic. One question I have, that many people ask me, is aren't all Bishops infallible in their own diocese when making a proclamation about private revelations? And is that the only time they are infallible?

God bless

Anonymous said...

Well said Father, well said! Undoubtedly, a lesson for the SSPX.

Dan L. said...


I read your blog all the time. I often do not comment, but that is just mostly me being either lazy or not having any importance to my words. I also have seen you so very often on EWTN.

I want to comment on the comment you made about the Pope, who he is, what he does, etc.

I found your post immensely to the point, and I will dare to call it, without authority of my own....accurate. There is no slithering, no sliding, no gumming up, no fog, no duststorming....it was clear and to the point. You worked hard to type that, I am sure. I appreciate it all.

Thank you,


Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

Dear Catherine, the ONLY time a bishop is infallible is when he as a member of the College of Bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff together teach a doctrine on faith and morals (Code of Canon Law 749/2; Catechism 891)

Lumen Gentium #25 from Vatican II teaches:

"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith."

Hence, when a local bishop make a decision about private revelation or make judgment about an alleged apparition, it is not infallible. It is authoritative, however. This means the faithful are bound to OBEY but they are not obliged to BELIEVE. In other words, we have seen in church history instances where legitimate apparitions, e.g., Lourdes, were initially discredited by local church authorities. When the local bishop forbids or refuses to endorse an apparition or private revelation, we must RESPECT his apostolic authority and OBEY insofar as not visiting such places (if commanded) however, we can still privately believe in them as long as we do not publicly promote it to others. Only the Pope has the authority alone or the Bishops as a whole in union with the Pope to make a final decision on the DOCTRINAL matter, i.e., as to the veracity of the 'private revelation.' So we have two simultaneous events occurring: one is the DISCIPLINARY aspect of jurisdiction, the other is he DOCTRINAL aspect of teaching authority. Infallibility is a matter of faith and morals (doctrine) whereas supremacy is a matter of obedience (discipline).

Remember that Padre Pio was falsely accused and wrongly penalized (he was unjustly suspended) but he OBEYED nevertheless and was later exonerated. In other cases, however, alleged visionaries were told by the local bishop to cease and desist and they DISOBEYED, which in the end greatly harms their credibility. While not infallible, legitimate church authority (even when imprudent) must be obeyed.

Put this way, the MAGISTERIUM is infallible but the HIERARCHY is not. The Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium teach doctrines we are bound to BELIEVE while the Hierarchy govern with disciplinary authority we are obliged to OBEY. The latter is not infallible, the former is. Infallibility deals with doctrines and dogmas our INTELLECT is bound to give ASSENT whereas obedience deals with disciplinary authority our WILLS obey. The only time we are allowed and obligated to disobey is when we are commanded to sin which is then an illegitimate command.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, speaking of which. Father, have you read Tradition and the Church by Msgr. George Agius? It was published in 1928 and is currently put out by TAN books. It outlines the essential nature of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I'm currently reading through it and have just finished the part on the infallibility of the bishops when they act as a collegium in communion with and under the Holy Father. Just wanting to throw my two cents in. If you're interested, here's the link https://www.tanbooks.com/index.php/page/shop:flypage/product_id/689/keywords/Agius/
God bless!

James Hughes said...

I absolutely loved this article about the Pope and his authority. I previously was an officer in the Royal Navy and am sure about my duties of loyalty and obedience to those above me ;I am also sure of my duty to those under me not to give illegal or immoral orders. I love my God and my Pope as god's man on earth but it really pains me when those who are appointed to lead the church openly defy and malign him. Benedict XVI is a clever and learned man and I am sure,nay certain, that God gave us a great Pope and I hope God gives him enough time on earth to sort out the church. This is the best explanation about who and what the Pope is that I have read to date.THANK YOU

Anonymous said...

Father, I "drop in" from time to time and just saw this excellent article by you. As a former sedevacantist who is still greatly (and I do mean greatly) struggling in how I view the present and past Vatican II popes, is there any advice you can give me in what to do? It is a trust issue really. Sometimes I laugh to myself when I think "Mary, you won't trust the Church, but you will trust 'Bishop XY' or 'Father ZK'!"

I am asking you as you seem to have a good understanding of the mindset.

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