Throughout history, there have always been Catholics who have wanted to dissent from the teaching of the popes.  Today, we see this attitude in theological “liberals” who do not like some of the “old fashioned” teaching of the Church, particular with regard to sexual matters.  We also see this attitude today in theological “conservatives” who dislike some of the more recent teaching of popes since Vatican II, some of whom find especially distasteful some of the recent teaching from Pope Francis with regard to pastoral discipline for those in irregular “marriage” unions as well as his recent teaching on the death penalty.  Some theologians have argued that dissent from papal teaching in certain circumstances is allowed by the Church. One of the main magisterial documents they have appealed to is a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called Donum Veritatis (“On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian”).

In light of this, I think it would be helpful to take a brief look at the Church’s rules when it comes to criticism and dissent from papal teaching, with some focus on the teaching of Donum Veritatis.

Religious Assent of Mind and Will is Required of All Magisterial Teaching

The basic teaching on this matter is expressed in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium:

Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place.(39*) For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old,(164) making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.(165) Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.  (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, #25)

Here we see that the Church requires assent to all her teaching, whether that teaching comes from the universal episcopate of all the bishops or from the head of the bishops, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.  With regard to papal teaching, we must adhere to all of it according to the Pope’s intention in giving it to us, his “manifest mind and will.”

The Church has reiterated this in her Code of Canon Law as well:

Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. . . .

Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it. . . .

Can. 754 All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

We see here that Church teaching, whether from the bishops as a whole or from the Pope, can be definitive or non-definitive.  The Church teaches definitively when she puts forth a teaching intended to be the final word on a subject, not subject to any revision or correction in the future.  The Church teaches non-definitively when she puts forward a teaching intended to be true and helpful, but not intended necessarily to be the final word on a subject.  Such non-definitive teaching may be subject to growth, revision, or even correction in the future to some degree. But notice that both forms of teaching, definitive and non-definitive, are to be adhered to.  Both are binding.

The supreme authority of the Church is tacitly acknowledged even by Catholics who try to argue that it is OK sometimes to dissent from the Magisterium.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person A: The Pope said X, and he’s wrong!  I refuse to listen to him.

Person B: But we’re supposed to accept the teaching of the Pope.

Person A: Not always.  After all, the Church has said that not all her teachings are definitive, and that we are allowed sometimes to disagree with her.  Let me show you (proceeds to quote from various Church documents).

Do you see the irony here?  Person A is trying to use Church teachings to prove that it is sometimes right to disagree with the Church, and when it might be right to do so.  But this is like an argument between children about whether one must always listen to mother:

Child A: Mom told me to clean my room, but I don’t have to.

Child B: But we’re supposed to obey Mom.

Child A: Not necessarily always!  Why, just the other day, Mom told me (proceeds to appeal to Mom’s authority to justify belief that one need not always follow Mom’s authority)

If you only dissent from someone when you can show that they’ve given you permission to do so, is it really dissent?  No, it is obedience. “I’ll dissent from you only when you say I can. If you say I can’t, I won’t.” How is this kind of “dissent” any different from “100% obedience”?

It is not surprising that those who wish to disagree with some aspect of what is being taught by the Church should try to justify that dissent by appeal to the authority of the Church.  Given Catholic epistemology, what else could one do? How else could one possibly know whether or not one can dissent from the Church or when one can do so without deriving that knowledge from the teaching of the Church?  Consider those who say (wrongly) that we only have to agree with the teaching of the Pope when he is teaching ex cathedra – that is, when he is solemnly and definitively defining a doctrine to be held by the whole Church.  Those who argue for this will probably appeal to the definition of papal infallibility in the documents of Vatican I.  But how does the arguer know that Vatican I is right about papal infallibility? “Well, Vatican I was an ecumenical council, and the Church teaches that ecumenical councils are infallible when defining doctrine.”  But how do we know the Church got that right? “Because the Church teaches it!” In other words, the very starting assumption of the argument is that the Church is right in what she teaches and we should listen to her in whatever she says.  Without that starting assumption, we could never learn from Church teaching when the Church is speaking infallibly and when she isn’t, for how would we know she was right in drawing the line where she does between infallible and fallible teaching unless we first trusted her general teaching?  Without that assumption, we could simply say the Church is wrong in thinking the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra, etc.  So, logically, given a basic Catholic worldview and epistemology, there must be the underlying assumption that the Church is to be believed and followed in whatever she teaches.

This teaching was elaborated upon by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a document written up as a commentary on a required profession of faith promulgated by Pope John Paul II (“Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei).  In this document, the Congregation defines more particularly the nature of the non-definitive teaching of the Church and the form of adherence required with regard to it:

10. The third proposition of the Professio fidei states: “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.” To this paragraph belong all those teachings­ on faith and morals – presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect.18 They are set forth in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of revelation, or to recall the conformity of a teaching with the truths of faith, or lastly to warn against ideas incompatible with these truths or against dangerous opinions that can lead to error.19

A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, as rash or dangerous and therefore ‘tuto doceri non potest’.20 . . .

As examples of doctrines belonging to the third paragraph, one can point in general to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.38

Again, we see that the non-definitive teachings of the Church, just like the definitive teachings, require the assent of the faithful.  We are not allowed to dissent from them. However, there are “degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested.”  The intention of the bishops or the Pope, as they manifest this intention in their teaching, determines the degree of adherence required in any particular case.  This is of particular importance to emphasize, because this is where those who wish to dissent erroneously from papal teachings often go wrong. They recognize, correctly, that there are degrees of adherence required of various magisterial teachings.  As they say, and as we’ll see more in a moment, this does indeed mean that we can criticize and even disagree with some of things the bishops and the Pope say. But the real question is, Who determines the degree and form of assent required in any particular case?  The erroneous dissenters make themselves and their own judgment the determining factor in deciding what they are required to assent to and to what degree they are required to assent. But the Church teaches that it is the bishops and the Pope who make that determination.  We don’t get to subject the teachings of the bishops and the Pope to our own judgment and decide, even against their intentions and requirements, what we will agree with and what we will disagree with.  We must assent to their teaching according to their manifest mind and will.

Donum Veritatis

As I mentioned, erroneous dissenters sometimes appeal to the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called Donum Veritatis to justify their dissent.  (As I mentioned above, there is a kind of logical absurdity in this endeavor, actually–to appeal to Church teaching in order to justify refusing to submit to Church teaching.  If one can subject Church teaching to one’s own judgment and reject what one doesn’t approve of, why trust the judgment of Donum Veritatis to confirm one in this practice?)  So let’s see what Donum Veritatis says about when we can criticize or disagree with Church teaching:

23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

When the Magisterium proposes “in a definitive way” truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.(22)

When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.(23) This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.

24. Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent.

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.(24)

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission. In fact, the theologian, who cannot pursue his discipline well without a certain competence in history, is aware of the filtering which occurs with the passage of time. This is not to be understood in the sense of a relativization of the tenets of the faith. The theologian knows that some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress. (Donum Veritatis, #23-24)

Such a disagreement could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable. Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine. (#28)

We see here the same reiteration of the various forms of Church teaching we saw earlier.  We also see here the same requirement of assent to all Church teaching, whether definitive or non-definitive.  We do see that sometimes “a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions.”  So some criticism and disagreement may be allowed. But notice two things: 1. The rule is submission. Unless one can prove a basis for disagreement, there must be submission.  The burden of proof is on those who advocate disagreement. 2. The forms and degrees of criticism and disagreement allowed are determined by “the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.”  This the same language we’ve seen before. How do we know when and to what extent we can criticize? We must look to the manifest mind and will of the magisterial teachers. Donum Veritatis does not alter or even add anything to what we’ve already seen.  It reaffirms that we are to submit to all Church teaching, definitive or non-definitive, to the extent and in the form required according to the intention and requirements of the magisterial teachers.  Once again, we are not allowed to decide for ourselves, even against the intentions and requirements of Church teachers, when and how much criticism and disagreement is permitted to us.

As we saw above in section #24, Donum Veritatis acknowledges that, in the Church’s prudential instruction, a distinction can sometimes be made between the solid doctrinal and moral principles of the Church and more conjectural assessments of how best to apply those principles within the particular circumstances of the world.  This passage is a bit obscurely worded (in my opinion), and could do with a few concrete examples illustrating what exactly it is talking about. Perhaps a good example of what I think this passage is getting at might be the Crusades. I’m not going to get into a big explanation of the Crusades now, but the short of it is that the Crusades were a project the Church took up in order to free holy sites from Muslim rule (they had earlier been Christian sites, but the Muslims conquered them) in order both to make those sites more accessible to Christian pilgrimage as well as to liberate the Christians who lived in those areas from Muslim rule.  Having read a reasonable amount about the Crusades, especially some of the earlier ones, my sense is that the Crusades were motivated by good intentions and solid moral principles, but were not necessarily pursued in the wisest manner possible (to put it mildly). For example, the Popes called for Christians from all over Christendom to “take up the cross” and assist in the Crusades, but those who did so often ended up going in groups that were poorly organized, and a lot of the people who went brought along with them a good many “barbaric” tendencies, and so they often tended to loot towns and villages on the way and commit many other crimes, including eventually the famous sacking of Constantinople.  In hindsight, I think that Catholics are allowed to believe that the valid moral principles and concerns that underlay the Crusades might have been applied more wisely. Also, on hindsight, although the Church would never, in principle, have supported unjust treatment of Muslims (and Jews), Church leaders were not sufficiently cognizant at the time of the negative effects the Crusades often had on both. They were too short-sighted with regard to all the implications of what they were promoting.

To recognize such things about the Crusades is not to “dissent” against the Church, because the Church has never claimed that she always acts as wisely as she should in all her prudential actions.  She claims guidance in her doctrinal and moral teaching, but she also recognizes the principle of “doctrinal development,” which can include a growth in awareness that can have a significant impact on her practical life and actions in the world.

Donum Veritatis goes on (in sections 24-31) to discuss what should be done if a theologian were to find himself intellectually unable to submit to some non-definitive teaching of the Church.  I won’t quote the whole section, but the gist of it is that the theologian is required to submit to the Church’s judgment as best he can. If he has an intellectual problem with the Church’s teaching, he is to dialogue with the Church, trying as hard as he can to understand the Church’s point of view and to allow the Church to show him where he may be going wrong.  He is not to go out and promote his concerns in the mass media, putting himself in opposition to the Church. He is not to present his “opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions” (#27). He can criticize and disagree with the prudential judgments of the Church that don’t involve matters of the doctrine of the faith to the extent that the Church allows him to do so (such as with the example of the Crusades mentioned above), but he is not to think that the Church’s non-definitive teaching is “up for grabs.”

It is acknowledged that there might be some situations where a theologian, trying as best he can, simply cannot bring himself intellectually to accept certain non-definitive teachings.  In such a case, the Church wants to show mercy to him and sympathizes with him, knowing that “such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail” (#31).  In the meantime, he must remain humbly in dialogue with the Church, open to being corrected, and not make himself a public opponent of the Church’s teaching or form some kind of movement of “dissent.”

33. Dissent has different aspects. In its most radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society. More frequently, it is asserted that the theologian is not bound to adhere to any Magisterial teaching unless it is infallible. Thus a Kind of theological positivism is adopted, according to which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not. The theologian would accordingly be totally free to raise doubts or reject the non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium particularly in the case of specific moral norms. With such critical opposition, he would even be making a contribution to the development of doctrine.  (Donum Veritatis, #33)

So does Donum Veritatis say that the Church gives permission to theologians to disagree with non-definitive teachings of the Church?  Hardly. It is rather saying that they have a duty to submit intellectually and practically to the Church’s non-definitive teaching as far as they are able to do so, but that the Church wants to be sympathetic and merciful to them if they find themselves stuck with regard to some point, provided they remain humble and open to correction and don’t join or form a movement of “dissent.”  But the teaching of the Church is still not “up for grabs.” We are not allowed to treat it as if it is merely the expression of an opinion which is not binding on us, as if we have the right to consider it and reject it if we find some other position more probable.

In conclusion, then, we are indeed allowed at times to criticize and even disagree with the teaching of the bishops of the Church and of the Pope.  But, if we want to do this, we must first show that the bishops or the Pope have allowed disagreement in any particular case. If we cannot do this, we must submit and assent to the teaching.  If the evidence says that the bishops or the Pope intend their teaching to be binding and accepted by the faithful, then the faithful are required to submit. In this way, truth and unity will be preserved and error and schism avoided as we all agree in mind and will with what the Church is teaching us.

This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.  (Vatican I, Chapter 4, Section 7, as found on the EWTN website.  “The translation found here is that which appears in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils ed. Norman Tanner. S.J. The numbering of the canons is however found in Tanner’s text.”)

For more, see here.

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Mark Hausam lives in Columbia, MO, with his wife Desiree and his nine children, where they are members at Our Lady of Lourdes parish. Mark teaches Theology at Fr. Tolton Catholic High School as well as Philosophy at State Fair Community College in Boonville, MO. He runs a blog at and is the author of Why Christianity is True and No Grounds for Divorce: Why Protestants (and Everyone Else) Should Return to the Unity of the Catholic Church.

When are Catholics permitted to dissent from teachings of the Pope?

23 Responses

  1. Chris dorf says:

    I was talking with a retired priests today who was looking up the church teachings on adherence of conscience to church teachings and formation of conscience with relation to Pope Francis letter Amoris laetitia . He was trying to find a way to explain Burke and Muller and the other group attacking Pope Francis as a heretic and understand where they’re coming from vs where the defenders of Pope Francis are coming from theologically speaking. He sees a lot of division being causes over this issue and as a pastor feels are d.wrenched over it.

    • Jane says:

      No one ever was obedient who was then condemned and rejected by God. I myself like to keep it simple. Theologically, I think continually of the following, “Unless you change and become like a little child, you shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” Does a little child trust their parents totally, implicitly and explicitly? Or do they find many and various ways to pick apart what their parents are asking of them? Does a child trust their parents or mistrust them? Does a little child love their parents or pick them apart? I then think of the following quote from Pope Pius X: Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey – that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope. Saint Pius X
      Allocution Vi ringrazio to priests on the 50th anniversary of the Apostolic Union
      November 18, 1912

      I think too, of a married couple. When they love each other, they do not pick apart what each other is asking of the other. But then, when they begin to lose love for each other, they begin to pick each other apart, and the things they are asking of each other. They no longer seek to understand each other or to humbly submit.

      I don’t know if that sounds theological or not. But everyone has a choice. Everyone has free will. As for me and my house, we choose by a free act of the will, to happily submit to Our Holy Father whoever he may be, since he has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. And for that decision, we experience zero confusion with Pope Francis, zero doubt about that he is asking of us, zero conflict. God Bless you

  2. Thank you for exploring this area, Mark. I appreciate it, though I do think your article would be strengthened by restating or removing the repeated claim that dissenters trying to support their actions with Church teachings are logically in error.

    While it certainly sounds like a “logical absurdity” to appeal to the Church’s teaching to support dissenting from the Church’s teaching, the terms are not actually parallel. The dissenters described are neither in disagreement with Church teachings simpliciter nor universally. In other words, they are not using all Church teachings to reject all Church teachings under any conditions (which would, of course, be self-referentially incoherent). Instead, they are using all Church teachings to support their dissent from some Church teachings under certain conditions – and right or wrong, that avoids the fallacy.

    If a person thinks he agrees with all Church teachings – including the Church’s teachings that disagreement is allowable under certain conditions – then he may be incorrect (e.g., if the Church does not actually teach any such conditions), but not illogical. IF the Church allows disagreement under certain conditions, and IF those conditions are met, then the dissenter is not being self-referentially incoherent. (And doing so would also not simply be to “subject Church teaching to one’s own judgment and reject what one doesn’t approve of.”)

    If I have misunderstood which “logical absurdity” you were going after, please forgive and correct me. However, I believe the strength of your article lies elsewhere – namely in proving the dissenter’s misreading of the Church’s conditions for legitimate dissent.

  3. Peter Aiello says:

    Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae says: “Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it. On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind.” (Dignitatis Humanae 3).
    Personal assent is still required for a teaching to be binding on the individual. “They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom.” (Dignitatis Humanae 2).

    • Marthe Lépine says:

      The way I see it, a conscience has to be “well formed” in order to give personal assent, and a “well formed conscience” accepts the teaching of the Pope. A teaching from the Pope and/or the Magisterium does not “force” a person to act in a manner contrary to his conscience.

  4. Marthe Lépine says:

    I have a problem concerning “a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares…”, not because I doubt the teaching of the Pope, but because I wonder what it means for us laypeople when some bishops are not in agreement with a teaching. Or what exactly is the “college of bishops”, when one or a few bishops have opinions that do not correspond to some teaching and are expressing those opinions in a public way? What are the believers who are members of a diocese led by one of these bishops supposed to accept, the particular teaching of their bishop, or the teaching of all the other members of the college of bishops?

    • Mike Lewis says:

      The rule of thumb is “the bishops teaching in communion with the pope.” Vatican II teaches that the bishops do share in the magisterium and even in infallible teaching when they join the pope in a teaching. If they contradict the pope or oppose his teaching, obviously this doesn’t apply.

      • Marthe Lépine says:

        Thanks. I “kind of” thought the same thing as you, but I needed confirmation.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        The whole issue of infallibility is confusing. When I was growing up, only ex cathedra pronouncements of the pope were infallible. Now, the general rule of thumb seems to be “the bishops teaching in communion with the pope”. Vatican II says that the “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, (111) [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of belief”…”from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (Lumen Gentium 12). I don’t know if you call this development of doctrine, but we seem to be reverting back to the New Testament church.
        At the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the letter to the Gentiles from the council was sent by the “The apostles and elders and brethren” (Acts 15:23), and said that “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us” (Acts 15:28). James was the one who spoke to the group of apostles, elders, and brethren, and suggested sending the letter to the Gentiles by the hands of Paul, Barnabas, and others. The letter was sent by the whole Church. Lumen Gentium 12 appears to be on solid Scriptural footing.
        This makes sense to me because the anointing of the Holy Spirit isn’t restricted only to the hierarchy.

  5. carn says:

    Another day, another strawman beaten down at WPI.

    I should stop checking this site.

    “faith and morals”
    and there:
    “manifest mind and will”

    you major errors take place.

    No need to explain them, as you likely are not interested.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      What strawman?

      • carn says:

        That those you call dissenters dissent from what they perceive to be Church teaching; that the manifest mind and will of Pope Francis regarding the teaching dissenters supposedly dissent from is sufficiently clear; that the teaching dissenters supposedly dissent from is about faith and morals.

        The Pope did not alter or offer a different definite interpretation of canon 915 and never mentioned 915 anywhere in respect to AL, which means he teaches to apply canon 915 exactly as before AL; hence his manifest mind and will is not clear.

        The Pope incorporated in his statements about death penalty claims about the current functioning and/or the near term potential of prison systems; that part of the teaching is not about faith and morals; as it is incorporated into the entire thing with “consequently”, so as consequence of some non-faith non-moral issue something is concluded, it is uncertain to what extent the following is conditional upon non-faith and non-moral issues, making it uncertain to what extent submitting to it as faith and moral teaching is required.

        Accordingly in both matters – and several others (e.g. that climate change is man made is not faith/morals teaching; anything based on that is accordingly of the same uncertain status) – people could end up genuinely being uncertain what – current – Church teaching is in that regard. Meaning they can not consciously dissent, cause that requires some awareness what the actual teaching is.

    • Pete Vickery says:

      Interesting carn in your sentence “you major errors take place” you made a major error in using “you” instead of “your”. By the way, I received mediocre grades in English. Something tells me you won’t make your case for a strawman, despite your insistence that you have argued cogently.

      • carn says:

        That was a strong counterargument.

        Besides, strawman are a matter of attacking a position someone DOES NOT HOLD; accordingly, it is not a matter of whether a good argument can be raised that a strawman happened, but rather a matter of fact, that a position was attacked, which the other side does not hold.

      • Pete Vickery says:

        What counterargument carn? I made no argument. I simply pointed out your grammatical error in a sentence where you accused Mike of error – which is simple irony. You asserted Mark’s article contained a strawman. Mike would like to know where Mark has erected a strawman. You can’t just make a claim without backing up your claim with evidence. I think Mike and Pedro Gabriel and Mark have been extremely courteous to you. When you make statements like “Another day, another strawman beaten down at WPI” you should be able to defend it. You should also thank WPI for being respectful to you all the time you’ve commented here. So you need to make your case. I leave it up to the rationality of the readers as to whether you make one or not. My son just came home with his girlfriend and announced he is engaged. So I would invite you carn and all other readers to please pray for them. God bless.

      • Jane says:

        CONGRATULATIONS Mr. Vickery, on your son’s engagement! ! I hope she is a beautiful pure soul and I hope and pray for many blessings on your family. We will pray for you. God Bless you! ! !

      • Jane says:

        CONGRATULATIONS Mr. Vickery, on your son’s engagement! We will pray for him and his fiance, hoping for great and abundant graces on them and their marriage. God bless you! !

  6. Mark Hausam says:

    Thanks for the thoughts and comments from everyone so far!

    Douglas Beaumont: The logical fallacy only arises when people accept some Church teaching on the basis of implicit faith in what the Church teaches (for example, accepting the Immaculate Conception as a dogma because the Church proclaimed it such) while, at the same time, in other areas refusing to accept what the Church teaches (such as rejecting a non-definitive teaching which the Church claims to be reliable and binding). You are right that it is not a logical error when a person holds an opinion within an area where the Church has allowed disagreement. But this wouldn’t be dissent. I do find a problem with dissenters who seem to want to have their cake and eat it too–accepting some Church teaching on implicit faith while feeling free to disobey other binding Church teaching.

    Peter Aiello: It is true that one must always follow one’s conscience. It is true that conscience can sometimes lead people into error, such as when it leads people to reject Church teaching. So, for someone who has an erring conscience, it is sometimes a personal, subjective duty for him to disobey Church teaching. (St. Paul speaks about this sort of thing in Romans 14, talking about people whose consciences lead them to follow rules that aren’t objectively binding.) But, objectively, in such a case, the conscience is still wrong, and the person is doing the wrong thing. It is like a person who accidentally shoots someone, thinking he was shooting a target. He did what he thought was right, but, in reality, it was very wrong. That is why it is important for all of us to form our consciences as much as possible. We want our subjective conscience to agree with what is objectively good and true. So we can indeed be required by the Church to assent to all her teaching. This is an objective requirement upon even those who don’t know it or are confused about it–though such a situation can certainly lessen their culpability for breaking it. The document Donum Veritatis addresses this. I discuss it in the article.

    Carn: In the history of the Church, an error has popped up from time to time which says that popes are reliable/infallible in matters of faith and morals but not in matters of fact. If you know anything about the Jansenist movement, for example, they made this argument. The Pope condemned certain teachings in Cornelius Jansen’s book. Jansen’s followers agreed with the condemnation of the teachings but refused to accept they were in Jansen’s book. That way, they thought, they could say they accepted all papal teaching on faith and morals while refusing to give up Jansenism. The popes would have none of that. They condemned that error and asserted that their authority covered matters of fact that were essential for preserving faith and morals. The Church has made it clear that matters of fact that relate to faith and morals are indeed covered by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Now, it is true that popes sometimes mix factual elements in their teachings with more doctrinal or moral elements, and it is true that they don’t always intend for everyone to have to agree with all their factual assertions. Whether some particular claim is binding on us or not will depend on the manifest intention of the Pope’s teaching known from the context. For example, if a factual claim is made in a sort of way that it is a part of the support for an argument that is leading to some doctrinal or moral conclusion, it may be that that claim is not itself what the Pope is intending to teach to the universal Church, and so it may not be binding. On the other hand, if the fact itself is what the Pope is trying to teach, then it is binding.

    With the death penalty, for example, the whole point of what the Pope is trying to say is that the DP is currently inadmissible. You have don’t to agree with every argument he might make to get to that point, but you do have to agree with the conclusion.

    • Peter Aiello says:

      A function of our personal conscience is to agree and assent with what is objectively good and true. Figuring out what constitutes ‘all of church teaching’ is another function of our personal conscience that comes in handy nowadays. There are 2000 years of developed doctrine to wade through. I have found the Catholic teaching in the New Testament epistles to be the most useful in my life. What is emphasized there is quite different than what is emphasized today. What is your preference?

  7. Jane says:

    “I desire Mercy and not Sacrifice”, a statement from Holy Scripture, sounds very much to me to support what Our Holy Father is saying about the Death Penalty.

    Others that come to mind are, “I came that they might be saved, and come to a knowledge of the Truth,”

    I think of Alessandro Serenelli in both statements from Holy Scripture

  8. Mark Hausam says:

    Peter Aiello: The entire Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals when they all agree together on what is to be held. But this involves the people submitting to Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. It involves the people being in communion and agreement with and submission to their bishops, and the bishops being in communion and agreement with and submission to the Pope. When Christians act on their own without such communion and submission, they lose the infallible guarantee.

    You can see this pattern, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #889, 890, and 883:

    889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.”417

    890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates.

    883 “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”404

    Infallibility permeates the teaching authority of the Church, but it manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes the Magisterium teaches definitively, in which case the judgments are irreformable and final. Other times, the Magisterium teaches less definitively, in which case the judgment is reliable but not necessarily intended as the final word on a subject, possibly subject to revision in the future by the Church, etc. The level of definitiveness of a teaching is determined by the manifest intention of the teacher determined by context.

    “I have found the Catholic teaching in the New Testament epistles to be the most useful in my life. What is emphasized there is quite different than what is emphasized today. What is your preference?”

    It is fundamental to the Catholic way of thinking that we do not pit the various aspects of the authority delegated by God against each other. We need them all, functioning in harmony. So it is a wrong starting place to ask whether we should prefer the teaching of the New Testament to modern Magisterial teaching. Rather, we need to accept them both as parts of a larger whole, illuminating each other. For example, the New Testament may have particular emphases, but we need the Magisterium to help us to know how to apply New Testament ideals to the particular circumstances of our times. Emphases can and should be different in different circumstances. The fundamental error of Protestantism, from the Catholic point of view, is that it wrested Scripture out from its harmony with Tradition and the Magisterium, insisting that individuals interpret it on its own without submission to any other authority. The result has been the explosion of many competing and contradictory Protestant traditions over the past few centuries as people interpret and apply the Bible in different ways. The Catholic way is to follow Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium all together in harmony.

    • Peter Aiello says:

      We share in Christ’s infallibility when we have Christ’s Spirit within us. This is how He brings things to our remembrance that He previously taught us. He guides us into all truth (John 16:13). This is true of the individual Christian. The Church is the sum total of the individual Christians who are guided by the Holy Spirit.
      Scripture is the only thing that regulates everything in Christianity (Dei Verbum 21) regardless of how important tradition and the magisterium are. It contains the actual words of Christ which we can all read for ourselves nowadays, as well as hear them from others. The epistles contain the earliest Church teachings. We should not neglect our own perceptions of what we read when we have the individual guidance of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. We may neglect something that is essential for us to know.
      I am thankful that I am easily able to read Scripture for myself; otherwise, I may never have learned of some very important ways of relating to God, which I didn’t learn from the clergy during my early Catholic upbringing. Church teaching has not been uniform throughout the 2000 year history of the Church. We know that Scripture has the essentials of salvation regardless of what has developed later. Paul says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

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