The Pope’s “Discretionary Authority” on Matters of Doctrine

Pope Red Prada

Gil Bailie quotes Phil Lawler on the next Pope:

“Count on it: The mass media will remark with surprise that the next Pope, whoever he is, is ‘conservative’ on doctrinal issues, because he upholds perennial Church teachings on matters such as the male priesthood and the dignity of human life. The secular media cannot be made to understand that every plausible candidate for the papacy is ‘conservative’ by their standards, since the papabile are all believing Catholics. An unbelieving world, accustomed to appraising all disagreements in political terms, cannot comprehend that the Bishop of Rome has no personal discretionary authority on questions of doctrine: that he can only teach what the Church teaches.” — Phil Lawler

Dean Hansen responds:

That would be fine if the church, ostensibly instituted by Christ, taught what Christ taught, and refused to make dogmatic assumptions about what he didn’t teach. How much discretionary authority is required to reject doctrines that have nothing to do with Christ’s teachings? How do you forbid what Christ didn’t forbid, or decree things that Christ didn’t decree? How can the church struggle to remain relevant if it continuously shoots itself in its own foot by dragging invented dogma into the 21st Century and declaring it immutable because it’s tied to tradition? Find me the relevant material in the gospel about homosexuality, abortion, birth control, and a dozen other subjects of keen interest to the majority of ex-Catholics, and then we’ll have a serious and meaningful conversation about its potential for survival.

Dean Hansen later adds:

In all of Gil’s latest posts about the Pope’s decision to resign, there is a cloud of sentimental mist and nostalgic vapor so thick that it obscures or dismisses any misdeeds or hints of evil and revels only in the “courage” and intellectual brilliance of the man. What’s wrong with this picture? Real brilliance and moral honesty would acknowledge the 500-pound gorilla of child abuse and deliver its predatory priests to the civil authorities for prosecution and long prison sentences instead of slapping them on the wrists and hiding them where, as case after case shows, they will ultimately do more damage. It’s interesting how the church’s confusion about homosexuality is somehow correlated to its policy about sexual predation toward children. Since the church, in spite of a blizzard of scientific and medical data refuting it, claims that homosexuality is “learned behavior” based on choice, it’s not difficult to imagine why they assume pedophilia can also be treated and reversed with counseling and prayer. The “time out” they give to priests in ministry is equivalent in force to the illusion that ministry can somehow redeem them from human nature. The harm that both of those ideas causes is so outrageous it will either kill the church or force it to reform. And like global climate change, there isn’t much time left to make the right decision. The patient can only lose so much blood before it dies.


1 comment so far

  1. thebentangle on

    Good point, Dean. How indeed did all these invented dogmas get into Church teaching? Somebody must have been using discretionary authority. If not the Pope, then who? And is he not then duty-bound to return the Church to the “purity” of its original teachings?

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