This is not about the death penalty


I’m trying to find something we can debate that doesn’t cross the line the moderator’s have set about discussing Francis’ new comments on the death penalty. I mentioned in another thread (since closed) that there were a number of issues completely unrelated to that question that have become relevant and in fact ought to be discussed if only so they can be better understood by all of us. I hope I have found such a subject.

The question is: If a pope says X is wrong, what level of assent does his assertion impose?

As I understand it there are two levels of assent that may be required of us: statements of the extraordinary Magisterium (infallible, or infallibly taught) “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” (CCC 891) A statement of the ordinary Magisterium, however, requires only that we “adhere to it with religious assent”. (CCC 892) Do either of these obligations apply in the case where a pope declares: “X is wrong”?

I strongly suspect such an assertion is not as binding as most people would assume. This evaluation seems fairly convincing:

The Church’s “extraordinary” magisterium, capable of binding the faithful in faith and doctrine, can proceed solely-papally or papally-episcopally ; but her “ordinary” magisterium, also capable of binding the faithful in faith and doctrine, can proceed only papally-episcopally . As {such a papal statement} hardly qualifies as papal-episcopal, and there being no such thing as an ‘purely papal, ordinary, magisterium’ (the term itself seems an oxymoron, implying that some significant points of Church teaching have been taught only by popes!), then {a pope’s} views on {X} might (I stress, might, given the infallibility concerns above) contribute to the Church’s ordinary magisterium but they do not, and cannot, control it. (Edward Peters)


Okay, we are talking about religious assent. Well, I think the quote we want from LG 25 is

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

So, it seems much depends on the the manner in which he presents the “X is wrong” and on what he has in mind. Also, I think sometimes prudential comments are made, which assume or hinge upon some current state of affairs.


Since all of the popes since VII have made the same prudential comment regarding the same current state of affairs, along with many other bishops, couldn’t that result in a papally-episcopally enduced change?


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