Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The end of infallibility?

In case you haven't heard, Hans Kung has apparently received a tacit "OK" to explore the issue of papal infallibility. Frankly, I'd like to see infallibility jettisoned, as it seems that would be one piece required to solve the puzzle of how to re-discover and re-establish classical Catholicism. This said, there are too many red flags to think this is the beginning of something with far reaching consequences.

Kung hasn't disclosed the contents of the letter he received from Francis that allegedly encourages the discussion. We don't know how much of this is genuine and how much is Kung reading into things. Furthermore, there is the thornier issue of context - is the discussion meant at an ecclesiastical level or is it more pointedly targeted at Kung's teaching faculties?

Infallibility has haunted the Roman Church since its definition. The spurious criteria (the pope speaks infallibly accept when he doesn't) and the historical revision required to defend it (the Council of Constance? Nope, not a binding council anymore) are often embarrassments among theologians, a reminder of one of the more irrational moments of the papacy and the entrenchment of poorly thought out ecclesiology.

Re-opening the discussion on infallibility at an ecclesiastical level (though welcomed by the other patriarchs) runs many risks. The "simple faithful" are thought to be significantly alienated by this papacy - the reality is, you have a relatively large chunk of practicing Roman Catholics for whom a 250 or so year old dogma is believed to be a foundational and intrinsic part of a 2,000 year old tradition. Papal infallibility isn't going away quietly, no matter how coherent the argument against it.

Would Francis really want to do away with the aura associated with infallibility? Perhaps, but he he has demonstrated a tendency to use the force of his authority in the Roman Church, and it is likely a successor would attempt to rehabilitate the dogma were it rejected.

Re-examining or rejecting infallibility would move things forward with the other major patriarchs, but it is unlikely that a severance from the dogma, or re-contextualization to such a degree that the original force of intent is sufficiently blunted, would necessarily be a clean cut.

Ultimately, we're dealing conjecture at this point based off a letter that the neither author nor recipient have fully disclosed. Given the authoritarian  nature of this pontificate, I just don't see Francis giving up infallibility - it is more likely that he establishes further protocols to keep ecclesiastical governance in the hands of the local bishops synods and abolishes more Roman congregations to ensure responsibility remains at the local level.

But one never knows - if he's enamored with the Orthodox Church just enough and genuinely wants to be the pope that receives credit for officially ending the schism...Stay tuned.....

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