Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(1) February 2014


On Papal interviews and Papal infallibility

Pope FrancisIn Evelyn Waugh's wonderful work Brideshead Revisited, the character of Rex Mottram is portrayed as someone wanting to join the Catholic Church for all the wrong reasons. The priest who is instructing him asks:

Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ' it is going to rain,' would that be bound to happen?"
"Oh yes Father."
"But supposing it doesn't?"
"I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it."

One fears that there are too many Rex Mottrams in the world of journalism these days. Either they are painfully ignorant or they seriously believe that Catholics are bound to believe everything that the Pope says. Pope Francis likes Mozart and Wagner. So do I. But there are plenty of fully believing Catholics who do not. Pope Francis also likes having conversations with Jesuits and atheists. Again, it is not intended that obedience is required of all that he says.

When at his local, Fred claims “Cameron is the worst leader ever,” he does not really mean that Cameron is worse than Hitler. When during an interview Pope Francis says “The most serious evils are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old,” he does not really mean that these things are worse than mass genocide. As in any conversation, not everything is to be taken literally. And now we hear that the person who interviewed him had not actually recorded the interview.

We need to recognize that Pope Francis is not some sort of spiritual Obama about to move the Church in a direction different from that of the previous incumbent. He will not change the teachings of the Church for the simple reason that he cannot. As Mgr Patrick Burke said in an interview on Newsnight: "The job of a Pope is not to be a liberal or a conservative. The job of a Pope is to be faithful."

Let us compare the Franciscan interviews with the following declaration of Pope John Paul in his great encyclical Evangelium Vitae:

“By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors, and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely sinful.";
JPII Evangelium Vitae

Nothing can be clearer than this: the Pope is confirming what has already been infallibly taught by the ordinary universal episcopal Magisterium. Matters of morality may not have been defined infallibly but they most certainly have been taught infallibly. It is also quite clear that the Pope is teaching as the successor of Peter and not like Fred the local orator. It is not his personal taste that is being offered here, not his choice of Wagner or Mozart.Similarly, in his apostolic exortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:

“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us.”
Pope Francis

Again, nothing can be clearer than this. The pastoral consequences of these statements are equally clear. For example, it is surely obvious from this that a politician who has voted in favour of abortion ought to be barred from receiving Holy Communion by this very act, whatever his own personal opinions are.

It is of significant note that the very people who praise the Pope in his interviews are the ones most likely to ignore him or condemn him when he teaches as the successor of Peter.