How far can we separate the office and the person of the Pope?


How far can we separate the office of the Pope as the vicar of Christ and supreme pontiff of the Church from the personality and personal tastes of Joseph Ratzinger?

For someone as totally absorbed in the work and witness of the Church as the Pope is, it seems hard to believe that any aspect of his character wouldn’t be informed by Church doctrine, and likewise his character will have an impact on the way he guides the Church in developing doctrine.

Clearly there are some issues, such as Benedict XVI’s dislike of rock music and preference for classical, that we can say are matters of personal taste and not Church doctrine, but how far does that go?

For example, John Paul II had a great passion and wisdom for the Theology of the Body, and made this a big part of his papacy. Should ToB be a bigger part of the Church’s witness because it was a big part of what the Pope studied? Should it be less big an issue now that we have a new Pope whose theological interests lie elsewhere? Is Benedict XVI’s latest book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ the teaching of the Vicar of Christ or the opinion of a particular theologian? The Pope seems to believe he can publish it as a private person, without it being Magisterial teaching.

I am reminded of a joke that has St Paul writing a letter:

"Dear mum,

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of the apostolic ones…"

Can the Pope lay aside his teaching authority when he wants/needs to? Clearly, not everything the Pope says is Church teaching, otherwise you’d end up with the kind of ridiculous situation that happens in authoritarian dictatorships, i.e. the leader wakes up, looks out of his window and says “it’s a nice day today” and people in some far-off province are wearing shorts and t-shirts in the freezing rain! Are there any guidelines on where Papal authority begins and ends?


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