FOR the author of a weird guide for teens called Heal Me With Your Mouth, The Art of Kissing, his nickname is regrettable. More importantly, the Pope’s new, um, guardian of doctrine is off to a bad start. There is no such thing as “the doctrine of the Holy Father.” The argument that the Deposit of Faith is “static” (not living and active) – in contrast to a pope’s novel ideas – is false. The argument that a pope’s views constitute a gnostic magisterium that may prescind ad hoc from the Deposit of Faith is false. The argument that only popes are anointed to recognise and expound Christian truth is false (and a contradiction of No.7 of Sensus Fidei In The Life of The Church). The argument that bishops are not empowered to discern and make judgements on orthodoxy is false. The argument that only heretics believe themselves to know “true doctrine” is false. Truth is knowable and meant to be known. The Church is not a sect for oracles. Fernandez’s best-known modern predecessor as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. This is what the future Benedict XVI told 30 Giorni in 2003 when asked about the then pope, John Paul, having judged the recently begun Iraq War as morally unjustified:
“The Pope has very clearly expressed his thoughts, not only as the thoughts of an individual, but as the thoughts of a man of conscience occupying the highest functions in the Catholic Church. Of course, he has not imposed this position as a doctrine of the Church, but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by the faith.”
In other words, erstwhile bishops were free in 2003 to come to their own conclusions according to centuries-old Catholic criteria for discerning whether or not a particular war should be considered just. Allowing for the fact that the benchmarks stipulated by various schools of just war ‘theory’ are subjective, doctrine on the subject was not – and could not be – rendered obsolete simply because one pope opposed one war; nor even because John Paul II had come to believe that the methods of modern warfare made it very close to impossible for any war to be just. Similarly, Pope Francis has no authority to declare or give the faithful to believe that the death penalty is never permissible (as he has), that Holy Communion may be received by re-married divorcees, that homosexual acts are not a big deal or that the Vetus Ordo Mass is no longer valid. Since the 11 September interview with the NCR (top link), Archbishop Fernandez has made his first intervention as doctrinal watchdog – to correct himself. This is something of a coup for Fr V and the cause of uneasy amusement to Fr Z. Drawing from his “inner Reagan,” the latter asks if things are clearer now than they were ten years ago. I make no claim to infallibility but my best layman’s guess is no.