WANT TO GET this straight: I don’t really like those who bow to everything the Pope says, whoever the Pope is. After all, according our faith, the Pope is infallible only for certain pronouncements; not for everything he does or says. This kind of papolatry—although not absolutely irreconcilable with our Faith—certainly causes disturbance to those desiring to be CATHOLICS in the deep, strong meaning of this word. Now, of course, we must listen to the Pope with attention because we know that most of the time his words are intended for the good of our spiritual life, so—even if we’re not “bound” strictly speaking—it would be wise to follow his advice and teachings. But not everything he says is a definitive pronouncement.
Here’s what often happens: new Pope, new lifestyle. Some who formerly took delight in displaying their lovely high notes singing Gregorian chant during the reign of Benedict XVI now suddenly discover a south American soul with Pope Francis. We are surrounded—both in and beyond the Vatican—by “men without qualities,” to cite a novel of the writer Robert Musil. The problem is, such undisputed acceptance is demanded by some for everything uttered by a cardinal, bishop, or pastor … However, when they say things that our conscience finds unsound, they are announcing a doctrine that misleads us instead of leading us. In such cases, disobeying is good! 1
How many fights I’ve had with priests because of liturgy! How many times concerned Catholics were saying to me that I should respect the pastor, the priest, blah blah blah. To all these people, I have one answer: who cares?!! If the pastor, the priest, the nun, the bishop, the cardinal, and beyond are saying that which my conscience rejects, I follow my conscience. This is not “freedom of conscience,” condemned by Gregory XVI in Mirari vos (1832). Our conscience should never be encouraged to commit evil; so in this sense, the freedom of conscience cannot be encouraged, but also a conscience deciding to walk on wrong ways cannot be stopped.
GOD LEAVES US FREE and ultimately responsible for our actions. But in the case of consenting to certain teachings, if they’re not in line with what an educated conscience feels is good, they have to be rejected, no matter whom they come from. Father Enrico Zoffoli, in one of his pamphlets about clergy, has said that we are not interested in private opinion of priests: they are the announcers of the Gospel, that’s all. We respect Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests … but up to a point. When they cross a line, we need not jump on the other side with them.
Indeed, in the encyclical of Gregory XVI, there’s another interesting point, and in this case I feel quite near to Mauro Cappellari (Gregory XVI’s name before his election):
“The holiness of the sacred is despised; the majesty of divine worship is not only disapproved by evil men, but defiled and held up to ridicule.” —Mirari Vos, §5 (1832)
Mmm … in this very case, I think that if these words were not written almost 200 years ago but today, they would still sound reasonable and sound, even to my own (maybe not very well educated) conscience.
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NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Editor’s Reminder: According to Catholic teaching, those under obedience must refuse obedience if ordered to commit sin.