It’s Infallible: Pope Francis’ Statements on the Scientific Details of Climate Change Aren’t Binding on Catholics, But a papal adviser, Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, apparently didn’t get the memo

It’s Infallible: Pope Francis’ Statements on the Scientific Details of Climate Change Aren’t Binding on Catholics, But a papal adviser, Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, apparently didn’t get the memo


By JOHN ZMIRAK Published on December 28, 2015 •

Catholics now have it on good authority that the pope can predict the weather a hundred years out. The claim confirms as true something Evelyn Waugh once wrote as a joke. In Brideshead Revisited, the character Rex Mottram is a scheming, insincere convert to Catholicism. Eager to please, he tells the priest instructing him whatever he thinks he will want to hear. Hence the following priceless exchange, which starts with a question from the priest:

“So you understand the dogma of papal infallibility?”
“Oh yes Father.”
“Suppose the pope says that it’s going to rain tomorrow. Does that mean it will rain?”
“Oh yes Father.”
“But supposing it doesn’t rain, what then?”
“Well … Uh … I guess it would be, ah, spiritually raining. Only … We were too sinful to see it!”

So the earth must be spiritually warming, but scientists such as William Briggs are “too sinful to see it.” That’s the message of Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, a close advisor to Pope Francis, who said as much during a contentious public colloquium on December 3 in Rome. As LifeSiteNews reported:

[I]n his address Bishop Sorondo spoke of “global warming” saying that in Laudato Si “for the first time in the Magisterium” Pope Francis “denounces the scientifically identifiable causes of this evil, declaring that: ‘a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.’” He repeated the point later, saying, “faith and reason, philosophical knowledge and scientific knowledge, are brought together for the first time in the pontifical Magisterium in Laudato Si.”

This led to a heated exchange with panel presenters at the conference, especially journalist Riccardo Cascioli, who objected to the suggestion that Catholics must submit to pronouncements on “scientific theories” rather than “faith and morals.”

Sorondo retorted by saying, “When the Pope has assumed this, it is Magisterium of the Church whether you like it or not — it is the Magisterium of the Church just as abortion is a grievous sin — equal (it is the same) … it is Magisterium of the Church … whether you like it or not.”

So Catholics who deny that human beings are causing catastrophic global warming, and that it must be stopped through drastic restrictions on our use of energy, are morally equivalent to pro-choice politicians like Nancy Pelosi — who by church law should not even be receiving Holy Communion. Or so says the learned Bishop Sorondo, the Chancellor of both the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Fossil Fuels Equal Abortion

Sorondo’s assertion is staggering, and has staggering political implications. Count on dozens of social justice Catholic bloggers to use Sorondo’s statement relentlessly in coming months, trying to convince voters that, according to the Vatican, global warming is an equivalent issue to abortion. So pro-life candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who reject the Paris Climate agreement are no better than those such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders who want to fund Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business. So you’re free to vote for Bernie Sanders.

Sorondo was willing to admit — under pressure from questions by fellow participants, including Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute and Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.— that Pope Francis’ climate forecasts are not taught infallibly. That is, they are not part of the “Extraordinary Magisterium” (teaching authority), which refers to the short list of declarations by Church councils and popes that invoked their maximum authority and were meant to settle questions once and for all — as when the Council of Nicaea affirmed the full, co-equal divinity of Christ. Pope Francis said explicitly that he wasn’t invoking that kind of authority. That authority, by the way, is NOT divine inspiration of the sort that the authors of the Bible enjoyed, but instead concerns statements guarded from error by a divine “death veto”: Catholics believe that God would strike a pope dead before He allowed the pope to teach error accompanied by a claim that the teaching was an “infallible” claim meant for the whole church. (See video below.)

Bishop Sorondo claimed that Pope Francis’ statement on global warming was part of another, less stringent kind of “Magisterium,” which doesn’t claim infallible guidance. The “Ordinary Magisterium” refers to the pope’s and bishops’ authority to pass along basic teachings of Christianity that came down to us from the apostles — teachings which for one reason or another, no pope or council ever got around to defining infallibly.

If that sounds less problematic, then bear with me for a moment as I explain the nature of the Magisterium. This will make it clear how truly strange the bishop’s claim is.

Magisterium 101

Christians were spreading the faith for decades before the texts of New Testament was complete, and centuries before it was officially canonized, and even after that they had no access to printing presses. The followers of Christ reported to the world what that they had seen and what Jesus told them, and the Gospels were composed from these oral traditions as well as from — as in the case of the apostles Matthew and John — eyewitness reporting by the Gospel authors themselves.

But the New Testament doesn’t contain everything Jesus taught the apostles. As we read in John 21:25, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Catholics and Orthodox believe that this is a reference to the oral teachings that Jesus passed on to the apostles, which they put into practice and passed along, without including them in the Gospels. It was against the rich body of Christian oral teaching that had been passed on by preaching and testimony that the bishops judged the very books of the New Testament, when they drew up the canon of scripture, weeding out hundreds of inauthentic, even heretical “gospels.”

The Ordinary Magisterium, then, is the body of what all orthodox Christians have believed since the very beginning, throughout the world, because it was taught to them accurately by evangelists who were passing along what their bishops had learned from the Apostles — except for those truths that people misunderstood so seriously that council or popes were forced to define them infallibly, which really is Extraordinary.

The Law Written on the Human Heart

Of course, Christians don’t just have faith. When we’re doing it right, we also have morals. Those morals have two sources: divine revelation that came from God via the Bible, and the natural law that’s written on the human heart by its Creator. Often these two sources overlap: The moral import of each of the Ten Commandments can be demonstrated by honest reasoning from accurate premises. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man about what he called the “Tao,” the core principles of moral decency that virtually all cultures share to one to degree or another, most of which can be deduced from the Golden Rule. Divine Revelation sharpens, clarifies, and makes these moral insights more persuasive, by making them essential to our relationship with God in this life — and, more ominously, in the next.

From the very beginning, the apostles (and with them St. Paul) and then the bishops whom they appointed as their successors, imitated Jesus by drawing moral conclusions from His message. They taught them with the authority of their office, which came from Christ, and Christians listened. That is why Christians know better than to imitate King Solomon and marry hundreds of women, or to get to heaven quicker by committing suicide. (Neither point is explicitly addressed in the New Testament.) They also knew these things because bishops taught them. From the very beginning, Christian bishops followed the Jews and the clear dictates of reason in rejecting abortion at any point in pregnancy, almost two thousand years before scientists fully understood the biological details of sperm and egg. Because this rejection was shared by all faithful Christians since the beginning, it is considered part of the Ordinary Magisterium.

Of course we don’t have to have the pope (or even the Bible) to know that abortion is wrong. The great pro-life physician and research scientist Jerome Lejeune said without hesitation when a journalist asked him what he would do if the church were to approve abortion: “I would leave the Catholic church.” The church, and indeed the Bible, make claims on our belief because they encapsulate and reaffirm the most profound moral insights that we have as human beings, which our God-given reason provides us. In fact, these sources of divine Revelation call us to standards that are even higher than reason; unlike the Quran, they never dip below it.

It is to this august, venerable body of sacred tradition, the Ordinary Magisterium which contains the central mysteries and moral injunctions of the Christian faith, that Bishop Sorondo wishes to admit the “science” of “climate change,” whose factual assertions and statistical predictions Catholics must accept on pain of serious sin. Or so he says. In claiming that, Sorondo is acting not as a theologian, but rather as a functionary attached to the Latin American tradition of the caudillo, the charismatic leader who demands obedience and deference, on the model of Hugo Chavez or Juan Peron.

Needless to say, the church could not possibly teach what Sorondo says it does. Here’s an easy test of whether a question is subject to the authority of the church, or indeed of the Bible. Just answer these questions:

1. Can it be deduced from the contents of divine Revelation?

2. Can it be deduced from the moral law written on our hearts?

If you answer “no” to both, the issue is beyond the authoritative teaching of the Church and the bishops. The Christian faith alone does not teach us the details of chemistry, astronomy, metallurgy, economics or political science, though it offers moral standards on the proper use of each. So it is intrinsically impossible for the pope, as pope, to speak with any more authority on the details of climate science than any other non-scientist. Nor is he better suited than you or I to evaluate the so-called “consensus” of actual scientists. He might as well be picking stocks or rewriting the scores of Broadway musicals, for which he has equal divine authority: none.

Now it’s true that the pope has the authority to promote and reaffirm the truths that clearly follow from natural law. So if Pope Francis were to say simply, “It is sinful to render the earth uninhabitable,” he would be correct, and within his rights. But on questions of whether that is happening, why it’s occurring or what’s the best way to do something about it, he has no special authority.

So I guess I’ll have to scratch that start-up idea I had, of an infallible Vatican weather channel.

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8 comments on “It’s Infallible: Pope Francis’ Statements on the Scientific Details of Climate Change Aren’t Binding on Catholics, But a papal adviser, Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, apparently didn’t get the memo

  1. Captain Kirk: Yes, but secular liberals believe that whatever the Pope says, however silly, absurd, capricious, or bizarre, becomes official Catholic teaching.

    Spock: That could present a problem, Captain.

    Captain Kirk: Wouldn’t the national bishops conferences clarify the confusion?

    Spock: Not necessarily, Captain. Progressive modernists have an interest in making sure that doctrinal confusion prevails among the laity. This prevents scrutiny of other heretical opinions and practices which predominate within the Novus Ordo progressive modernism of the Spirit of Vatican II. The notion that Catholicism is not really concerned with a supernatural struggle for salvation but is really about this-worldly economics, social justice, and climate change distracts attention from other irregularities among the modernist clergy and hierarchy.

    Captain Kirk: What other irregularities?

    Sulu: I think I know that one, Captain…

    Captain Kirk: Mmmmm. Fascinating, Mister Sulu. Does it require a theoretical exposition of Occam’s razor or another detour by Mister Spock on neo-Kantian epistemology?

  2. Spock: As you may recall, Captain, Occam’s razor is the logical principle in epistemology and scientific method for seeking the simplest solution – lex parsimoniae, the ‘law of parsimony’ in Latin, a logical and rational “problem-solving principle” formulated by the medieval 14th-century English Franciscan scholastic philosopher and theologian.William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347).

    If I may consult the ship’s computer for a moment…
    “The oldest and very clear equivalent of Occam’s razor is the one of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans two millennia before Occam, as Proclus very clearly describes. The Pythagoreans have the principle that we have to make the simplest suppositions as Pythagoras ordered them to do when they describe what is necessary to describe: “τῶν μὲν Πυθαγορείων … παρακέλευσμα ἦν …… δι’ ἐλαχίστων καὶ ἁπλουστάτων ὑποθέσεων ἐπειδὴ δὲ καὶ τοῖς κλεινοῖς Πυθαγορείοις” και “δεῖν γὰρ ἐπ’ ἐκείνων καὶ αὐτὸν παρακελεύεσθαι τὸν Πυθαγόραν ζητεῖν ἐξ ἐλαχίστων καὶ ἁπλουστάτων ὑποθέσεων δεικνύναι τὰ ζητούμενα·” The 13th-century scholastic philosopher Robert Grosseteste, in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics Books (Commentarius in Posteriorum Analyticorum Libros) (c. 1217–1220), declares: “That is better and more valuable which requires fewer, other circumstances being equal… For if one thing were demonstrated from many and another thing from fewer equally known premises, clearly that is better which is from fewer because it makes us know quickly, just as a universal demonstration is better than particular because it produces knowledge from fewer premises. Similarly in natural science, in moral science, and in metaphysics the best is that which needs no premises and the better that which needs the fewer, other circumstances being equal.”

    Or in the Latin of 17th-century Irish Franciscan scholastic philosopher and theologian John Punch: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitate (entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity). In simplest terms the principle may be summarized in the following manner: “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

    Captain Kirk: Forgive me for asking, Mister Spock, but how will a survey and review of 14th-century scholastic logical principles help us with a South American progressive modernist Pope obsessing on Malthusian climate change hysteria?

    Spock: Well, Captain, it is a lack of familiarity with such principles and a decline of teaching them in colleges and universities in the name of progress and Enlightenment which got progressive modernists into this problem in the first place.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: He may have a point there, Captain Kirk. Father Gannon and Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J. were sticklers for the historical review of scholastic principles at Fordham in my day. Father Miceli always had the lamp burning late into the night reading medieval Latin scholastic propositions. Of course, ontological parsimony is not to be taken lightly. Even in South America or on M Street….

    Captain Kirk: Please continue, Mister Spock.

  3. Captain Kirk: So break it down for us as best as you can, Mister Spock. What is really going on with the progressive modernist clergy and climate change hysteria?

    Spock: As best as we can determine, Captain, Pope Francis and Bishop Sorondo want the theory of man-made climate change to be understood as part of the official teaching and Magisterium of the Catholic Church, even though this goes beyond the rational and theological limits which normally apply to Catholic doctrine, for psychological reasons yet to be determined and verified in diagnostic terms by licensed professionals.

    Captain Kirk: So in layman’s terms, Mister Spock, what exactly are we dealing with here?

    Spock: Very simply, Captain, it is a fantasy. A neurotic fantasy to change the Catholic faith from a supernatural moral theology of spiritual salvation to a this-worldly political ideology focused on global warming and climate change hysteria.

  4. Captain Kirk: So climate change gnosticism would become incorporated into the official Magisterium of the Catholic Church?

    Spock: Perhaps somewhat esoterically, Captain. There would be an implicit revival of the double truth theory of the 13th-century neo-Averroist philosopher Siger of Brabant, since it would not be literally true in any canonical sense that the theory and debatable hypothesis of man-made global warming and climate change were part of the official teaching of the Catholic faith.

    Captain Kirk: But wouldn’t some knowledge of scholastic philosophical principles be necessary for explaining and distinguishing the difference between the real official Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the progressive modernist version augmented by the fantasy that the debatable hypothesis of man-made global warming and climate change is part of official Catholic teaching? Particularly if global warming is considered as an ens rationis in a neurotic fantasy, as you said before, Mister Spock.

    Rex Mottram: Yes, all of that Latin may be good for you, Sebastian, Lady Marchmain, and Bridey, but the earth could still be getting warmer spiritually in a metaphysical way, only we’re too sinful to see it, right?

    Professor Sartre had to think about this…Cartesian dualism, alienation, and existential self-estrangement in modernity would still be a problem whether the earth was warming from greenhouse gasses or not….This existential phenomenology was tricky….

    Walker Percy: I’d like to see Wittgenstein tackle bovine flatulence and global warming….

    Rex Mottram: What about the sacred monkeys? I can’t keep all of this stuff from the Magisterium straight. And they used to say at least Catholics know what they believe!

    Spock: There is one promising opportunity in this, Captain. An esoteric return of the double truth theory of Siger de Brabant in the global warming as official Catholic teaching whopper would require a revival in the study of scholasticism and scholastic philosophical priniciples in general, just to keep things straight. This could, in turn, spark a revival and renaissance of sorts in Catholic education.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Many things are possible in the ways of the Lord.

    Father O’Malley: Stranger things have happened. But I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

    Sister Mary Benedict: Gambling with church funds is a sin, Father.

    Captain Kirk: Well, Mister Spock, we’ll keep on the lookout for those developments.

  5. Father Dowling: Do you think that would work at Notre Dame?

    Father Karras, S.J.: Frankly, I don’t think it would work at Georgetown, your Eminence, because there are no longer enough faculty members on campus who even know what scholasticism is.

    Father Philip Lamont, S.J.: That presents several problems, some of which are terrifying, Father. Have you given any consideration to educating future priests?

  6. Dr. Bob Hartley: And that’s why the Billy Goat Curse is still alive?
    Well, it all make sense now, Mister Carlin. I guess you can come in from off the ledge now.

    Emily: Bob, what was Mister Carlin talking about?

    Bob: Why the Cubs didn’t make it to the World Series this year.

    Emily: OK, why was that, Bob?

    Bob: Because of global warming.

    Emily: Well, Bob, how on earth could global warming prevent the Cubs from getting to the World Series.

    Bob: Well, it seems that the New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy is originally from Jacksonville, Florida. He’s used to playing in warm weather. That’s why he was hitting so well.

    Emily: I still don’t get it, Bob. How could that have anything to do with the Mets sweeping the Cubs?

    Bob: Did you hear how warm it was in New York this past week?

    Even the Jets beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

  7. Sister Mary Stigmata: It doesn’t have anything to do with whether the Pope is infallible or the 14th-century Franciscan scholastic principle of Occam’s Razor. We must ALWAYS obey the Pope. If the Holy Father says that the earth is getting warmer globally with such severity that the polar ice caps will melt, flooding the oceans with freezing cold water that it will cool down the Gulf Stream so much triggering a new Ice Age just like in the Dennis Quaid movie The Day After Tomorrow where the kids burn the books in the library to stay warm…then you have to believe the Pope regardless of whether this is a revealed doctrine or official article of faith because he’s the Pope!

    Sister Mary Benedict: Yes, the anti-intellectual position of fideism.

    Father O’Malley: Well, it’s an interesting argument. Do you need a ruler to win that debate, Sister?

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: That would never have gone over well at Fordham in my day. Father Gannon and Father W. Norris Clarke would never allowed a passing grade for fideism.

    Walker Percy: Cow farting triggering an apocalyptic Ice Age? Well, Vatican II has really come full circle! Not even Kierkegaard or Luther could have imagined this!

    Hans Küng: To the Omega Point, ja!

    Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: Forgive me, but that’s a slightly different theory, Father.
    In the cosmic evolution of the noösphere the Omega Point is…

    Hans Küng: Ja, ja! An oldie but a goodie!

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