“Tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium. The meaning attributed to such tensions and the spirit with which they are faced are not matters of indifference.”
The Church does not force people to believe something against their conscience. It makes a distinction between being unable to assent to something and dissent. The former cannot be helped sometimes, the latter is harmful to the unity of the Church.
Many critics of Pope Francis today excuse their harsh judgements of the pope with the claim that we don’t have to adhere to every word the pope says, that the pope can be mistaken, the pope can be in error in his non-infallible magisterium.
There is some truth to this. The CDF document, Donum Veritatis, published by Cardinal Ratzinger, clarifies that the pronouncements of the magisterium, at least when they are not directly related to revealed doctrine, can be a mixed bag of essential and contingent elements. He speaks of the filter of time that is sometimes required to purify and develop the teachings.
This is not necessarily where the critics are wrong. Where they are wrong is in the spirit of their opposition to the pope.
One can see the spirit of what they do in the fact that they are not simply struggling in good faith with this or that teaching. They are rather doing what Ratzinger described as dissent in Donum Veritatis.
If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian’s part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.
So far, so good. This is what Cardinal Burke initially did in privately sharing his problems with the Vatican. But then Donum Veritatis continues:
the theologian should avoid turning to the “mass media”, but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders servite to the truth. (Donum Veritatis 30)
This is where everything went off the rails. In a 2017 interview with the Remnant, the interviewer asked Cardinal Burke this question:
So, is it even possible for you to envision a scenario whereby you suddenly discover that you’ve missed something, that the Four Cardinals are misinterpreting it, and that you’d have to concede you were wrong? I mean if that’s not possible, then what is the point of the dubia? Don’t you already know the answers to your five questions?
And this was Cardinal Burke’s reply:
Certainly we do. But the important thing is that the pastor of the universal Church, in his office as guardian of the truths of the Faith and promoter of the truths of the faith—that he make clear that, yes, he answers these questions in the same way that the Church answers them.
In other words, his “dubia” was not sincere. He just wanted to make the pope publicly say what Burke thought the Church teaches or ought to teach. What is the spirit behind that? What is the spirit behind writing open letters to the pope accusing him of being a heretic or pretending to correct him? What is the spirit behind the writing of books called “Lost Shepherd” or “The Dictator Pope”? What is the spirit that synchronizes and coordinates the release of slander and gossip and anonymous accusations that seem designed to undermine the papacy? What is the spirit that accuses a pope of being guilty of ‘internal schism’ (whatever that means)?
It’s the spirit of pride and arrogance. It’s a spirit that denies the role and the authority of Peter. It’s not the spirit of humility and love for the Church that characterizes one who cannot accept a teaching or struggles with a teaching but seeks to understand it in communion with the Church. What we are seeing is an attempt to exert the pressure of public opinion against Pope Francis.
There is a way to dialogue with the pastors of the Church about her teachings, and it’s not even impossible for the theologically minded to assist the magisterium in correcting and clarifying its own teachings. But what we are seeing with the opposition to Pope Francis and his magisterium is not it.