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Francis the Fallible Pope

by Christopher A. Ferrara
July 23, 2015

An environmentalist commentator has made a telling observation about the Pope’s “ecological encyclical,” Laudato Si.  He calls it  “impressively expansive, covering environmental science, economics, international politics, carbon credits, social equity, technology, consumerism, social media, theology, and much more.”  Notice that “theology” appears at the end of a long list of subjects.  Indeed, Catholic doctrine as such plays little or no role in the main parts of the encyclical.  Only in Chapter 6, the final chapter, do we find a presentation of certain explicitly Catholic theological elements as a kind of appendage, none of which is related thematically to the rest of the 185-page text.

In short, there is something for everybody in this encyclical — Catholic and non-Catholic alike. And this means that the document is fraught with the potential for error because it addresses numerous topics on which a Pope has no authority whatsoever to pronounce in any binding manner. (This is not to say that the Pope has no authority to pronounce on the moral implications as opposed to the technical aspects of human activity — for example, the moral implications of human action in the economic sphere.)

Coupled with its wide-ranging discussion of matters clearly beyond the scope of the Magisterium is the encyclical’s presentation of vague prescriptions for humanity at large, which prescind from calling upon those outside the Church to follow Christ and to obey the Law of the Gospel — insistently presented as the only way to true peace and justice in the world by every Pope before Vatican II.  Thus we read of “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet,” “a new and universal solidarity,” “a new lifestyle,” “the chance of a new beginning,” “an authentic humanity, calling for new synthesis,” “a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach,” “a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction,” “a new start,” and even “a new way of thinking about human beings.”

But what does it all mean? Watch this hour-long discussion of Laudato by members of the staff of Ignatius Press. On and on they go, but nowhere do they arrive at any definite conclusion about what exactly Francis would have men do in order to achieve a new solidarity, lifestyle, beginning, humanity, synthesis, interdisciplinary approach, self-awareness and way of thinking about human beings. Since any explicit call to conversion to Christ and adherence to His Church is out of the question according to the post-conciliar mentality, which has replaced preaching the Gospel with “dialogue,” the encyclical’s vacuous moral prescriptions amount, literally, to nothing in particular.

During yet another of his rambling press conferences on the flight back to Rome following the whirlwind “Liberation Theology Tour,” Francis was asked “why he talks so much about the rich and the poor and so rarely about middle-class people who work and pay taxes.”  Francis “thanked the journalist for pointing out his omission and said, ‘I do need to delve further into this magisterium.’” And this after a 185-page encyclical that is supposed to be a comprehensive papal presentation of that same “magisterium”! Here yet again Francis revealed an alarming lack of forethought, preparation, and intellectual depth. Even Francis fan John Allen wryly observes that Francis “seems utterly unabashed about admitting mistakes, confessing ignorance, and acknowledging that he may have left himself open to misinterpretation.” Yet Francis nonetheless simply refuses to stop talking and writing about momentous issues as if they were matters for debate in a local sports bar. Francis, writes Allen, is “embracing what one might dub his own ‘dogma of fallibility.’”

And the Church continues to suffer as a result. This pontificate will soon enter its third year.  We have had two book-length encyclicals, an “apostolic exhortation” of more than 200 pages in length, and an endless stream of interviews and off-the-cuff remarks.  The net result thus far is total confusion at best and scandalous undermining of the faith at worst.  The dogma of fallibility indeed!  Francis is daily making obvious what has been apparent for much of the past fifty years: when a Pope ventures novelties and speaks without regard to the requirements of formality and exactitude that pertain to the authentic Magisterium, he will inevitably fall into error.  This development is surely at the heart of the Third Secret of Fatima.