No, Amoris Laetitia Does Not Threaten Papal Infallibility

Here is a very illuminating article by John Zmirak about the Amoris Laetitia controversy that is threatening to bring civil war right into the Catholic College of Cardinals.  Four cardinals have publicly asked the pope to clarify his statements in Amoris Laetitia that appear to permit divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without changing their mortally sinful situation.  This is a clear change in practice with all sorts of implications for the Church’s teaching on mortal sin, the sacraments of reconciliation and communion.  According to Rod Dreher, these four cardinals have now been threatened with demotion.

In Zmirak’s article, he claims that the controversy threatens the Church’s teaching on papal infallibility. Bold emphasis is mine:

Q: So what does this mean for the authority of your church?A: If Pope Francis does not reverse course and reconcile his teaching on divorce and remarriage with perennial church teaching, but instead makes a new teaching binding on all Catholics, then he will be teaching heresy — full stop, and imposing it on the whole Church. If infallibility doesn’t stop that, I don’t see what use it is.Q: Can’t you just declare him a heretic and depose him?A: No, we cannot. Vatican I in 1870 taught that popes can teach infallibly, and that they cannot be judged by anyone or ever removed from office.Q: But God can’t contradict Himself either. He can’t let you teach one thing at the Council of Trent, then the opposite today.A: No, He can’t.Q: How can the doctrine of papal infallibility survive this?A: Fans of logic will note that it can’t. If Pope Francis continues on the course he has chosen, he will prove, empirically, that this teaching was never true in the first place.Q: What will that mean for the First Vatican Council?A: That council, and every other council the Catholic Church has held since the great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054, will be called into question. The Orthodox theory, that it was Rome which went off the rails back then, will start looking pretty persuasive. Last time I checked, making the case for that was not the Roman pontiff’s job.

Source: An FAQ for All Christians on Divorce, Pope Francis and the Bishops Questioning Him | The Stream  [Read the whole article. It’s very informative.]

In researching this issue (late last night), I came across Lumen Gentium, paragraph 25. It appears to me that this paragraph was intended to clarify and limit the teaching of the First Vatican Counphoto-lumen-gentiumcil. Yes, popes are infallible, but this does not give them the power to contradict prior revelation.  Here is the rough-cut explanation that I gave over in the com box of Dreher’s article.  It includes a direct quote from the relevant passage of Lumen Gentium 25:

If I am reading Lumen Gentium 25 correctly (which deals explicitly with infallibility), this dispute has no bearing on papal infallibility:

“When the Roman Pontiff, or the body of bishops together with him, define a doctrine, they make the definition in conformity with revelation itself, to which all are bound to adhere and to which they are obliged to submit; and this revelation is transmitted . . . through the legitimate succession of bishops and above all through the watchful concern of the Roman Pontiff himself. . . .” (LG 25)

This is the very thing the dubia are questioning—whether the controversial portions of Amoris Laetitia are in conformity with prior teachings. LG 25 concludes with a reference to Vatican Council I that no one may “admit any new public revelation as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.”

The dubia, by dint of their very existence, render the issue of infallibility moot. The issue of infallibility could come into play,however, if the pope chose to answer the dubia. For it seems that infallibility only applies when doctrines are defined and clarified in light of and in conformity to prior revelation. This is exactly what the pope has refused to do, but LG 25 seems to be saying that this is his solemn obligation. . . .


Thus, it seems pretty clear that the “logical” problem posed by Zmirak above is resolved by Lumen Gentium 25: Because all authority must submit to prior revelation, if there is a conflict with a new papal teaching, authority rests with prior revelation and not the pope. LG 25 is clear that, in the event of a conflict, it is the pope who must submit to the superior authority of tradition.  If the pope is not a lawless one, he will always be obedient to the Word of God, the authority of the Apostles, and to the Sacred Tradition handed down by “the legitimate succession of bishops.”  Let us pray for our pope and our Church.

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