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Phil Lawler on Things a Pope Can’t Say

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If you have ever been a follower of, you may well have given up on getting any but the most biased coverage of the papacy from them some time ago. But while Jeff Mirus has demonstrated remarkable resilience to the red pill (with cracks only just beginning to show), Phil Lawler has been on a steadily accelerating trajectory to Truthville.

Today, he offers one of his simplest and best pieces to date, entitled, Three things the Pope can’t sayThis is sort of a 101, everyman level attempt to tackle what those Divinely-guided papal powers really entail, and I suspect it’s going to be very valuable to those Catholics who have only just recently started catching on to the war brewing in Rome:

The Pope can’t say that 2+2=5. Nor can he repeal the laws of logic. So if the Pope makes two contradictory statements, they can’t both be right. And since every Pontiff enjoys the same teaching authority, if one Pope contradicts another Pope, something is wrong. Thus if Amoris Laetitiacontradicts Veritatis Splendor and Casti Connubi—earlier papal encyclicals, which carry a higher level of teaching authority—the faithful cannot be obliged to swallow the contradiction.

The Pope can’t tell you what you think. He can, within certain limitations, tell you what you shouldthink. But he cannot, simply by the force of his authority, change your mind. Father Anthony Spadaro, a close adviser to Pope Francis, insists that Amoris Laetitia is perfectly clear . “The Pope leaves no room for doubt about the teaching of the Church,” he claims. Even if that statement came directly from the Pope himself (which it does not, obviously), it could not be authoritative. If you have doubts, then evidently there is room for doubt; not even the Pope can gainsay that fact. Ideally the Pope and his surrogates would help you to remove those doubts, rather than suggesting that doubt implies disloyalty.

The Pope cannot teach authoritatively by dropping hints. On the most controversial issue discussed at the last two meetings of the Synod of Bishops, Amoris Laetitia is vague, allowing for radically different interpretations. Father Spadaro and Cardinal Schönborn and the Argentine bishops can all make a compelling argument that they know what Pope Francis had in mind—especially because the Holy Father himself has endorsed the Schönborn and Argentineinterpretations. But what the Pope had in mind does not carry the same weight as what the Pope actually wrote. And that is especially true when there is such abundant evidence that the Holy Father deliberately left the question unresolved…

The whole piece is worth a read, and I’d recommend it to the people in your life who are trying to grapple with what this all means. If nothing else, it’s a good tool to have in your bookmarks when the topic of infallibility comes up in conversation.

30 thoughts on “Phil Lawler on Things a Pope Can’t Say”

  1. I had just finished reading that over there when I noticed this piece here. Yes, back and for Dr. Mirus goes, but Phil has been moving steadily in a straightforward direction for a while now.

  2. Actually, Steve, the Pope CAN say that 2+2=5 and he CAN tell you what you think.

    He can also misquote Jesus, too!

    He’s just wrong when he does…

  3. Mr. Lawler’s post is important because he puts his finger on something that has been driving me crazy: the propensity of papal spokesmen to adopt an “it’s so because I say it’s so” attitude, e.g., AL is perfectly consistent with past teaching, the Pope had made it perfectly clear, etc.

    One gets the feeling that they’re not trying to persuade you, they’re telling you what you are to think, evidence to the contrary be damned. “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

    But not even the Pope can force you to think anything, particularly when there’s public evidence to the contrary.

    • Right on.

      The papal spokesmen use the Protestant tactic.

      They CANNOT cite support from the continuous Magesterium, so they rely on threats and demands to accept their authority.

      One of the beauties of the Catholic faith is supposed to be the fact that one can trace one’s faith and doctrines back to the beginning. Admittedly this is very hard with many interpretations of V2 documents, etc, but with Pope Francis, it’s a whole new game.

  4. Jeff Mirus has been very slow to come even tepidly to a conclusion most sane observers arrived at years ago, viz. that something is dreadfully wrong at the Vatican, and that the current pope himself may be the cause of the problem. I donated money to his site till about the fourth time he refused to print one of my (really quite mild) comments on Francis’ outrageous behavior and words. As you suggest, while Jeff waxes and wanes on this question, Lawler seems to have finally had it with papal shenanigans.

  5. I think PF has been as clear as can possible be in advocating a position that is opposing to the Teachings of Christ and the Church Tradition. And if anyone is still not sure he made it pretty clear in his letter to the Argentinian bishops, and if people still have doubt on how to interpret AL then he showed it to you already by allowing Public Adulterers to commit Sacrilege against the Holy Eucharist in his own Diocese of Rome on how to implement his own AL (he signed off everything that the Archpriest of Rome came out with in implementing AL).

    • The most important question in the dubia is NOT about Holy Communion for adulterers which has been done for decades but the one asking if there is objective evil.

  6. Yes to all of it. ‘One Peter 5’ is now the best perch to observe catholic culture or what remains of it. But glad to see ‘Catholic Culture’ is moving in the right direction even though at such a desultory womanish pace.

    • Womanish? Hilary White? Ann Barnhardt? Umm… maybe you meant St. Catherine of Siena? Or possibly the Blessed Virgin? Please apologize.

        • For using the word “womanish” as an insult. If you cannot understand why you need to apologize for that, Our Lord will explain it to you in due course.

          And it is conduct unbecoming to a gentleman.

          • Never let feminist linguistic tomfoolery stunt your speech. Boldly use “he” for both masculine and neutral references, never the idiotic “they” as in “One ought not do this unless THEY want to be criticized.” As you point out, “womanish” and “mannish” are perfectly acceptable English adjectives; they’re not insults and there’s no reason to ditch either. And one need not be afraid to recommend that our prelates be fishers of men, rather than the ugly “fishers of people.”

  7. The Pope can say anything that he likes, but that does not make it true.

    We should not judge whether Pope Francis is good or evil, but we need to discern whether his words and actions are good or evil.

  8. I used to donate regularly to Catholic Culture but Jeff Mirus’ commentaries, about a year into this pontificate, became so benighted with regard to what PF was obviously doing that they turned me off.

    Why do some Catholics, good people to be sure, mistake charity, the virtue that makes one give another’s words and actions a favorable interpretation, with blindness to the truth? Denying the truth of what’s happening before your eyes seems to be a distortion of charity, a form of uncharity. I suppose balancing charity with truth is a delicate job, and few of us get the balance exactly right.

    Phil Lawler still makes that site worth an occasional peek, though.

    • Let’s not forget that truth comes FIRST. Anything and everything that is said and done must align with the truth under discussion. Christ told us that marriage between a man and a woman is unbreakable. That’s where we start. Any and all discussion about divorce (which is the real elephant in the room), and all the fallout from that must fit the template Christ Himself set for us.

      • Barbara – I certainly agree. This inability to frankly acknowledge the truth of what is happening is at least part of the reason why the sexual abuse crisis festered so long in the ranks of the clergy.

  9. I’d like to hear discussion of a possible counter argument to Phil’s first point:

    [The Pope can’t say that 2+2=5. Nor can he repeal the laws of logic. So if the Pope makes two contradictory statements, they can’t both be right.]

    A counter-argument may be made that the Pope (or Magisterium in general) may state something that *seems* contradictory or illogical but isn’t really for reasons beyond human comprehension. They may cite such great mysteries as these:

    -That Jesus is true God and true man.
    -That Jesus is co-eternal with the Father, but also that Mary is His mother.
    -That bread and wine are changed into true Body and Blood without changing any physical properties.

    Among others. All these things elude human reason to a degree and some seem to be contradictions. Certainly none actually *does* break logic or contradict itself, but our human comprehension is limited in its understanding of exactly how.

    So the communion-for-the-divorced-and-remarried defender could appeal to similar circumstance. They may (and do) appeal to the idea that this new practice does not actually contradict doctrine, it only appears to to those with closed hearts.

    Now, I DO NOT buy said argument, but I would appreciate some help in articulately deconstructing it beyond ‘on what revelation is this un-evidenced theory supposedly based?’

    • The events you cite are miraculous, but not logically self-contradictory (which you point out yourself). Lawler is referring to the Law of Non-contradiction, whereby a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. If PF contradicts earlier authoritative magisterial teaching, we are not obliged to accept the new, contradictory “teaching”. That’s all. Pretty straightforward, I think.

  10. How about “Things a Pope SHOULDN’T say”. Referring to the latest regarding PF remarks on those who do not go to mainstream media/propaganda for their news. Unbelievable! I will not repeat what was said, but of all the things to make a comparison to. I’m sorry-but I think PF is “uncloaking”. Thank you, thank you Cardinal Burke and brave friends for what you are trying to do for the Church.

  11. Papal positivism is a perversion of the Petrine Ministry and the occupier of the Holy See is a wonder to behold.

    Bye, Bye, Bergolio, you are on your way out, one way or another ,because when men begin to publicly oppose and mock you you have lost all possible credibility.

  12. If I might add a word or two to the discussion. I have written to many priests and I send many of my blogs to bishops and ask anyone who reads it to forward it on the their priests. I remind, from time to time, many priests of what I consider quite a grave sin. The vows that the priests made to bishops are gravely sinful they surrender their consciences to the flavor of the month that bishops serve. Christ gave us all free will and we cannot give it back or as I have heard never bow your head to any man.. I was prayed make my free will yours and the following moments and days just would not go right. I believe we can pray and work as he wills and that is different.The Bishops have a hubris that through this vow they pass on to the priest you can see it plainly now- a -days.. It is Father knows best. Amoris Laetitia proves them wrong, dreadfully so.
    Catholic Culture there is a writer worth reading he is Brother Andre Marie

  13. Excellent. Mr. Lawyer might have clarified that there exists both genuine and illegitimate (i.e., not morally licit) doubt – the latter being that obstinate sort that exists as rejection of revealed truth – but, clearly, that’s outside of his thesis here.


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