Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Creeping Infallibility: Popes Have Gone Way Beyond What Vatican Councils Authorized

Prominent Catholic canon lawyer Ladislas Orsy, S.J., says in a new book that recent popes have taken it upon themselves to expand the notion of papal infallibility way beyond what was defined and authorized by the First and Second Vatican Councils. So writes the National Catholic Reporter's John Wilkins in his review of Orsy's Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates.

Orsy sees this creeping infallibility as part of Rome's multi-decade project to undo Vatican II's stress on the church as the "entire people of God" and to deny the non-ordained any say in the governance of the church. Excerpts from Wilkins' review follow:

Throughout the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Orsy, teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome, marveled as the world’s Catholic bishops got to work. The council was the “awakening” of the “entire people of God,” he writes.

Exactly the same metaphor was used at the time by then-Fr. Ratzinger, who was at Vatican II as the expert adviser to Cardinal Josef Frings, archbishop of Cologne, Germany. In an overview of the council’s work, published a year after it ended, Ratzinger hailed “the awakening of the church” as “the true event” of Vatican II.

Vatican II spoke of the whole “people of God” as a communion, a key concept for Orsy, before it spoke of the pope and bishops as a communion within the communion. Certainly, as Orsy acknowledges, the lay faithful now have a greater place in the internal life of the church than they did before. “They work in chanceries, ecclesiastical courts, parish councils and other ministries.” Here they have an opportunity in particular to apply the virtue of prudence, which is not guaranteed to the ordained.

Yet canon law separates the laity out again, excluding them from decision-making. Only the hierarchy has the power of governance. Laypeople can cooperate with this power but cannot share in it. The 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II restores the negative definition of the laity as those who are not clerics. The code calls them “the other members of the Christian faithful.”

Orsy is among those who are alarmed that a previous tradition in the church finds no echo in the new code. In the first millennium, lay men and women summoned ecumenical councils; most participants at the Council of Florence (1438-45) on the reunion of East and West were not ordained; abbesses for centuries had a power of jurisdiction. Looking beneath the surface, Orsy warns: “If the present situation becomes a norm for the future, the church will be more clerical than it ever was.”

He sees “turbulence” in the church today, resulting from the collision of two currents. One tends toward a new church order based on communion; the other seeks to restore an absolute monarchy, and at present is dominant.

Orsy’s charge is that the scope of the doctrine of infallibility, previously carefully restricted, has in effect been hugely extended by recent documents of the Holy See. Neither at Vatican I nor at Vatican II did the bishops conceive of any such enlargement. His concern is with Pope John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter Ad Tuendam Fidem “(To Guard the Faith”), the attendant doctrinal congregation commentary signed by Ratzinger, and the expanded profession of faith and the oath of fidelity that, since 1989, all officeholders are expected to take. These initiatives establish, Orsy contends, a new category of “definitive” teaching that is proclaimed as “irreformable and attended by sanctions enshrined in canons inserted into the Code of Canon Law.

These developments seem to him to open up “a new and vast field for infallible teaching.” For what is the difference between infallible and “definitive”? Only the mode of promulgation, he thinks. “In the case of an infallible definition the pope must speak solemnly ex cathedra. ... In the case of a definitive teaching it is enough for him to indicate that his statement is intended to be definitive: No more is required.”

When it comes to Ad Tuendam Fidem, he stresses that the apostolic letter is authentic papal teaching that demands obedient respect. But he points out that Vatican II leaves no doubt that pope and bishops together in an ecumenical council can “abandon, supersede or modify earlier papal teachings which were not ex cathedra definitions.” As regards the commentary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he suggests that perhaps its status can be compared to that of the drafts put before the bishops by the curia at the start of Vatican II. And we all know what happened to those drafts: They were voted down.

1 comment:

Justiniano said...

I have never read his book, but from your review I get the impression that Orsy is certainly on the right track. Vatican I in 1870 extremely limited “infallibility” in its scope and especially in it’s subject.

Acording to Vatican I, the “Pope reflects the infallibility of the Church” when he “ex cathedra” acknowledges some truth found in the “depositum fidei” (suposedly closed with the death of the last of the apostles) and held by the universal church. Since Pius IX’s pushing of this definition through the first Vatican council, until today, to the best of our knowledge, the only infallible doctrine proclamined has been the “asumption of Mary, the Mother of Jesus into heaven in body and soul” declared by Pius XII. As with the “Inmaculate Conception of Mary” proclamiend by Pius IX in 1854, one must search very closely to find these “truths” in the “depositum fidei”, and then search again and still they are hard to find.

The Italian churchmen got “infallibility” through the votation in the absence of the French and Germans after the declaration of the Franco Prussian War during the time of the Council when they hurriedly returned to their homelands. Since then Pius X and Benedict XV manged to coopt the rights of the base Church, and draw up a “unified and centralized cannon law” into a vast Vatican clerical bureaucracy. The Italian popes Pius XI and Pius XII, strengthened it, and lo and behold a slight of hand and a quick step forward and we today have the accepted vision of the ”ordinary teaching of the Pope and the Vatican” being infallible, as Orsy calls it, a “creeping infallibility”. Now it is no longer the Church, but the Vatican that is infallible.

The “poetic justice”, if you like, of this, washes out today in the tremendous sex abuse crimes of children by clerical members of the church. All power has been “assumed” and centralized, and with it also the responsibility, so obviously those with power and responsibility are now also reaping the harvest of being deeply involved in criminal cover ups in the USA now Europe, and within a short time also in etc, etc.

Just how much power did Jesus need to get agoing here on earth the Kingdom of his Daddy? “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Who are his vicars here on earth? The poor, the marginal, the old and abandoned, the migrants, ill, people rejected and deprived of their human rights, etc.etc. “Our Father, ... thy kingdom come on earth...”. The job is in our hands. The Church exists only in order to encourage us in the work of pushing along the cart of the kingdom of Abbá Father, towards that “other possible society”, that “other possible world” where we will be able to save our planet and with it ourselves.

Justiniano de Managua