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The Infallibly Powerful Pope

by Christopher A. Ferrara
May 13, 2016

Just when you think Mount Bergoglio has ceased erupting, at least for a while, another ash cloud bursts forth and covers the landscape with still more confusion.

This time we learn that the infamous Hans Küng, stripped of his Catholic theologian’s license at the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II, claims that in a private letter he received from Francis, Francis gave him a green light to begin “an unrestricted discussion of the dogma of infallibility.”

Küng isn’t letting anyone see the letter, and there is little doubt he is exaggerating its import.  On the other hand, there is little doubt that Francis, the clever Jesuit, gave Küng the impression that an infallibly defined dogma may now be questioned.  Let us just say that winks and nods are how Francis rolls.

But there is a seeming paradox here.  As Sandro Magister notes, at the end of Phony Synod 2014, having blasted his “inflexible” opponents in the Synod Hall, Francis himself alluded to the Pope’s “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church…” Indeed, Magister observes, Francis is “the pontiff who over the past half century has exalted more than any other this supreme authority…”

Thus Magister notes the seeming paradox:  “On the dogma of infallibility, however, there is no comparison between his feeble and hesitant support for the reconsideration of the dogma on the one hand and on the other the powerful, thundering proclamation of his own supreme authority that he has made more than once, and always on occasions of great significance.”

But is this really a paradox?  Magister, I believe, has overlooked the distinction between power and infallibility.  It seems Francis is little interested in being an infallible Pope as opposed to a supremely powerful one.  He is far too clever to insist that any of his novelties are proposed infallibly, for that would lead to the impossible result that prior infallible teaching can be contradicted by later infallible teaching.  Francis knows full well that infallibility is limited to the Church’s formally defined dogmas and her constant teaching on faith and morals, including such matters as the grave evil of abortion, contraception and divorce. And he knows that he cannot assert anything denominated “infallible” against these infallible teachings without undermining his own claim to papal authority.

And so Francis prefers to operate within a volcanic ash cloud of ambiguity, where the raw power of the papacy serves him best. At the same time, however, he is content to allow termites like Küng to nibble away at the infallibility dogma to see what they can come up with that might be useful.  For it is precisely papal infallibility that undergirds the very dogmas the Bergoglian program has indirectly challenged: i.e., the indissolubility of marriage and the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist (before which Francis never genuflects and to which he would like to give access to public adulterers). 

Here we see the real paradox emerge: that Francis wants to be infallible without the dogma of infallibility — that is, an infallibility in terms of unchallengeable power as opposed to the unchangeable Deposit of Faith that not even Francis would dare to alter apertis verbis.

Sandro captures the paradox in the bitterly ironic title of his article: “Francis, Pope. More Infallible Than He There Is None.”  Here Magister reflects the ever-widening alarm and even disgust with what Antonio Socci has so aptly dubbed “Bergoglianism” among the lay faithful, as well as many clergy and even some bishops and cardinals (though they cower in silence for fear their heads will roll). From the Fatima perspective, this development can only be viewed as encouraging.