A lot of Catholics are up in arms about the stances His Holiness the pope has recently taken. They tell him he ought to stick to the “moral issues” which they aver are the sole province of The Church. They are hypocrites. By and large they are massive hypocrites. Yes, the pope is a moral steward. Yes, the prime focus of The Church’s magisterium (to borrow a concept from Stephen Jay Gould) is one of “morality”, but given both the scope of the text used to justify that claim, and the breadth of pronouncements they have accepted in the past, it’s ridiculous to the point of hubris to pretend the question of how we steward the Earth (which contains the part of God’s Creation given over to the Dominion of Man ) is outside His Holiness’ purview.
I could point to the parable of the talents; and argue that just as much as the question of broadcasting the good word (best done by example and not exhortation, were one to ask me; and it seems Pope Francis) so too is how we take care of what God has actually given unto our hands. Refusing to care for it could be said to be as bad as burying it in a field.
But more to the point, those same Catholics who now sing a song about how the pope isn’t as permanently infallible as all that*. Which isn’t (though they have denied it) new for them. They have been fond of bruiting papally inflexible infallibility on matter of the the US Culture Wars they favor (e.g. homosexuality, abortion, same sex marriage, birth control), but oddly contrary to Church teaching on things like capital punishment, and war.
Which is, at one level, fine. There are some moral issues on which people of good will can disagree** but it’s offensive for those same people who berate, upbraid, and abuse those with whom they disagree by using one set of the Church’s teachings, while vehemently pursuing goals which are in complete opposition to Church teachings more forcefully expressed.
Take Birth Control. The Church is ambivalent about it: Rhythm is completely sanctioned. Hormonal is somewhat sanctioned (in that a doctor recommending it for reasons of health is completely acceptable; as a friend of mine found out when she was converting. She’d been on the pill for… about eight years (at the age of 21) for debilitating periods. She asked what she needed to do when she got married (she was still a virgin, though affianced). He told her to keep taking it, until they wanted to have children, as her health trumped all.
The Church makes no exceptions for capital punishment; yet many of those who yell that The Pill = Abortion = sin unforgivable, not only look the other way at capital punishment but laud its application (yes, I am looking at Scalia, the Cafeteria Catholic).
So those self-same people telling me the Pope is WRONGER THAN WRONG CAN BE about climate change, while screaming blue murder about Abortion/Birth Control/Same-Sex Marriage and ignoring capital punishment are hypocrites, more worried about the motes in my eye, than the beam in theirs.
The Church does not demand I abandon reason. She says God gave it me for a purpose (though one could argue the tale of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil says it’s not necessarily a blessing), and not to use it is a sin. It’s refusing a gift of God. She also admits She has been in error (e.g. Gallileo, and the sophistic justifications of Inquisitional excess***), and even were a doctrine made Ex Cathedra, that doesn’t mean one can’t argue against it; merely that one can’t ACT as if it weren’t so. A later pope might decide the previous one were in error.
For the Pope is a man, as other men; and is subject to all the foibles and weaknesses of men. Pretending he isn’t, when it suits one’s politics; and is when it doesn’t despoils all one’s arguments.
*which he never was. Ex cathedra says that certain type of papal declaration are; when Ex cathedra is invoked, are infallible matters of doctrine. It has never said being raised to the papacy makes one superhuman, and incapable of philosophical error.
(though the question of what defines a person of good will is somewhat tricky. I, for one, don’t accord that status to either Scalia, or Alito; as things they have said, written, and done, lead me to believe they put their personal opinions ahead of more broad investigation of moral questions. They accept injustice because it pleases them to use the law as a shield against preventing those injustices which serve their prejudice, but I digress)
*** the legal fiction that the Church didn’t condemn heretics to death; it was merely the choice of the temporal power